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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 12 December 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Urgent Question, Topical Question Time, Year of Young People, Point of Order, Decision Time, Violence Against Women and Commercial Sexual Exploitation


Topical Question Time

Police Governance

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the recent reports from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland and Audit Scotland on police governance. (S5T-00813)

The Audit Scotland report highlights a number of improvements made by the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland, while also highlighting areas that require to be addressed. In contrast to previous years, the Auditor General has not expressed a modified opinion, reflecting

“an encouraging improvement in the quality of accounting records and access to information.”

That is a key sign of progress.

In addition, the Auditor General has highlighted that the

“process for setting the 2017-18 budget was more transparent and comprehensive”,

and that the development of three-year and 10-year financial strategies

“provides essential context and understanding for the organisations’ future financial sustainability”.

The report also highlights issues where best value was not achieved and governance has been poor. I therefore welcome the commitment from the new chair of the SPA to learn lessons from the issues that have been identified and to ensure that further improvements are made. I expect the SPA to respond to the issues that have been highlighted and to drive improvement to ensure that similar issues cannot happen again in the future.

As HMICS has acknowledged, the findings in the report were based on a review in February to March 2017. Since then, the joint programme board has made progress in a number of key areas. In particular, it has been agreed that officers and staff will retain their current terms and conditions, including access to their current pension schemes. The board will publish a question-and-answer briefing for British Transport Police officers and staff in Scotland this week. A progress report on the work of the joint programme board was provided by the Minister for Transport and the Islands to the Justice Committee on 31 October this year.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that response. In the report that was published last week—sadly, just after the Liberal Democrat debate on policing—the Auditor General said that there had been

“a number of instances of poor governance and poor use of public money in the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland.”

Ms Gardner also warned that realising the policing 2026 vision “will be immensely challenging” and predicted that the force will face financial trouble for many years to come. Does the cabinet secretary agree with the Auditor General?

As I set out in my original response, the Auditor General correctly highlighted a number of areas where performance in the SPA has not been as adequate as it should have been, particularly in the way in which some of the SPA’s governance operations have been taken forward, and in ensuring best value. However, Liam McArthur will want to acknowledge the very significant progress that the Auditor General has identified in improvement of overall financial management in the SPA and Police Scotland. That significant progress is based on the section 22 order that was issued the previous year.

Alongside that, Liam McArthur is correct to say that there will be challenges in taking forward some of the financial aspects of the 2026 vision, but that is exactly why the financial strategy has been broken into key component parts—in particular, the three-year strategy, which is to ensure that the organisation gets into financial balance, and the work being taken forward over the next 10 years to deliver the 2026 strategy. I recognise that there are challenges in that, but I think that the member will recognise that any reasonable person who reads the Auditor General’s report will acknowledge that significant improvements have been made in the overall financial situation.

I turn to pay-offs and expenses. The cabinet secretary might recall that the First Minister told the Parliament’s Conveners Group recently that some very important tests have to be applied—public confidence, value for money and reasonableness among them. It is vital that those tests run through decision making. Does Mr Matheson therefore believe that paying £67,000 in relocation expenses and £53,000 in tax liability for one senior officer; spending £345,000 on appointing three people who were, ironically, meant to get the police’s finances back in order; paying the golden goodbye for the chief executive; that same chief executive offering, against procedure, a position to someone, then withdrawing the offer and running an apparently open competition before disqualifying the competitors and installing the original appointee, are in keeping with the tests that were set out by the First Minister?

I will pick up on each issue that Liam McArthur has raised.

On the relocation expenses that were made to a deputy chief constable in Police Scotland, the member will be aware that those expenses were awarded in accordance with the terms of the individual’s appointment when they joined the organisation. The SPA has said that it is committed to a review of the relocation payment procedure in order to ensure that it will deliver value for money in the future. The matter has been referred to the Police Negotiating Board because it relates to terms and conditions for police officers, and the board has agreed to review the guidance and procedures that relate to removal expenses for police officers.

The appointments of three individuals to key posts in the SPA and Police Scotland were interim appointments. The SPA is taking those forward as permanent appointments, in order to address the concerns that have been raised by the Auditor General in the report.

On the package that was offered to the former chief executive of Police Scotland, he retired under the terms of the SPA’s early retirement scheme, which covers all SPS staff, rather than through any individual settlement agreement. The terms have to comply with the “Scottish Public Finance Manual”, and the new chair of the SPA has sought to learn the lessons from the way in which that matter has been handled. Liam McArthur should acknowledge that the package of the former chief executive was taken forward under the SPA’s existing early retirement scheme.

In 2012, the Scottish Government promised that police reform would achieve greater scrutiny of spending. Since then, for five years in a row, Audit Scotland has reported on poor use of taxpayers’ money—most recently, £53,000 to pay an individual’s taxes. Why does the Government not cut such waste and cut the examples that were highlighted by Liam McArthur, rather than hiking the public’s taxes?

Liam Kerr may wish to reflect on his question, because relocation expenses are an issue of terms and conditions for police officers. If he is suggesting that we should just tear up the terms and conditions of police officers, that is another matter. That is why the SPA has referred the issue to the Police Negotiating Board, which is the body that we established in Scotland to consider such matters through due process. That is unlike the position in England and Wales, where the equivalent body was abolished, so there is no longer a negotiating forum for that procedure.

Liam Kerr should also recognise that, when he refers to five years of the SPA and the creation of Police Scotland, the Auditor General highlights in last week’s published report the significant progress that has been made over the past year to improve financial management within Police Scotland and the SPA, with greater transparency and accountability around that process. I would have thought that Liam Kerr would welcome that.

The Auditor General has said that the audit

“identified a number of instances of poor governance and poor use of public money”,

which “is unacceptable”.

Following the report, there is no doubt that John Foley is being rewarded for failure, with significant additional payments having been made. Who agreed the payments, and can they be challenged at this stage?

As I have mentioned, the SPA former chief executive retired under the terms of the Scottish Police Authority’s early retirement scheme, rather than through an individual settlement. The agreement was reached between employee and employer—that is, between Mr Foley and the Scottish Police Authority—and that had to be approved by the board. As such, the Scottish Government had no role in authorisation of the terms of the package.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the addition of substantial experience of public service and of Government to the SPA will greatly enhance its oversight responsibilities. In particular, will he expect of the new chair that improvements will continue throughout her term of office and that quick fixes will be suspect?

It is worth reiterating that last week’s report from Audit Scotland has already demonstrated the significant progress that has improved overall governance and financial accountability in the Police Scotland and SPA budgets. This is the first time that the audit report has not modified their accounts, which recognises the progress that has been made in accountability and transparency in the accounts’ processes.

The new chair of the SPA has already said that she intends to address the issues that Audit Scotland raised in the report in order to ensure that the SPA drives forward further improvement on the issues, and that she intends to learn lessons where they can be learned. I have no doubt that Susan Deacon will bring to the organisation considerable leadership and skill that she has gained from her time in Parliament and in the public and private sectors over recent years.

Alongside that, Kenneth Hogg, as the new chief officer in the Scottish Police Authority, brings considerable experience from the public sector and of transformation of public agencies. I have no doubt that both will bring considerable leadership to the organisation. Members should be reassured by their commitment to learning lessons and to addressing the issues that were highlighted in this year’s Audit Scotland report.