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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 20 June 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motions, Oaths, Topical Question Time, Policing 2026, Crofting Commission, Air Departure Tax (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Air Departure Tax (Scotland) Bill, Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time, Scottish Civic Trust (50th Anniversary)


Policing 2026

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Our next item of business is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice on policing 2026. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement. If members wish to ask a question, I encourage them to press their request-to-speak buttons as soon as possible.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Michael Matheson)

When the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland launched the consultation on their 10-year policing 2026 strategy, I committed to update Parliament following the consultation and once the revised 10-year strategy had been submitted to me for approval. The final strategy was laid before the Parliament earlier today. This is the first time that a 10-year strategy has been developed for policing in Scotland. It was finalised following wide-ranging consultation and engagement, in which strong support was demonstrated for the key elements of the strategy. I am happy to endorse the vision that is set out in policing 2026.

The merger of 10 police organisations into a single police service has not been without its challenges, but through the commitment and professionalism of officers and staff much has been achieved. Savings have been realised, allowing resources to be focused on service delivery. Public confidence in the police remains strong and recorded crime is at a 42-year low. Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary, Derek Penman, recognised in his most recent annual report that Police Scotland is better prepared than its legacy forces to meet the operational challenges ahead.

The past few weeks have underlined the changing nature of the threats that we ask our police service to address. We experienced a global cyberattack on 21 May, and we have seen cowardly terrorist attacks on the streets of London and on children and young people at a pop concert in Manchester. Police forces and their emergency services colleagues across the United Kingdom respond heroically in the face of those attacks and we all appreciate their work.

The single police service has strengthened access to specialist policing capabilities, including firearm capabilities, across Scotland’s communities. That, coupled with the decision to increase the number of firearms officers in Scotland, has ensured that Scotland is well prepared to respond. Over the past few weeks, Police Scotland has provided assurances that it is fully supported to lead our fight against terrorism. However, we will continue to keep that under constant review.

It is by interacting with communities and being trusted by them that we will prevent further attacks from taking place. I welcome the emphasis in the strategy on strengthening Police Scotland’s cybercapability and capacity, including recruiting more civilian cyberspecialists to counter the threat posed by cyberattacks such as the one that we saw in May.

The strategic police priorities capture the public’s expectations of our police service. To deliver on those, the strategy focuses on five key areas: protection, prevention, communities, knowledge and innovation. Police Scotland is a national service, but policing is delivered locally. I welcome the commitment in the strategy to building on Police Scotland’s already strong community relations. I believe that those strong community links and the increase in front-line policing capacity to be delivered by the strategy will further improve public confidence in the police.

The strategy also recognises that demands in policing are increasingly focused on addressing issues of vulnerability. Police Scotland is one of the first police services in the UK to implement mandatory mental health and suicide intervention training for all officers up to and including the rank of inspector. As part of policing 2026 implementation, Police Scotland will change how vulnerability is assessed at first contact and beyond, enabling the police service and its partners to respond in a way that best meets the needs of vulnerable service users. That complements the ambition in the Scottish Government’s 10-year mental health strategy. We have committed to increasing the mental health workforce in key areas, including working within Police Scotland, with additional investment of £35 million over the next five years for 800 extra workers. Those are the commitments of a Government and a police service that see the police as a vital, trusted and reassuring cornerstone of our society.

I welcome Police Scotland’s commitment to maintain officer numbers in 2017-18 for the seventh year in a row since we met our target of 1,000 extra police officers in 2011. In the policing 2026 strategy, the chief constable has made his assessment of the shape of the workforce and the skills that are needed to meet future demands. He proposes a workforce model that will increase operational policing capacity and capability by freeing up officers from support work and recruiting more expert police staff to tackle new threats such as online fraud and cyberattacks. His conclusion is that that will allow Police Scotland to slow the recruitment of police officers in the longer term while continuing to improve the service to the public and building the capability and flexibility that are needed to respond to our changing society.

However, I am absolutely clear that a decision to slow police officer recruitment must not be taken until there is evidence that the planned increase in operational policing capacity has been delivered. I have asked HMICS, Derek Penman, to work with the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland to develop a robust methodology to supply that evidence and provide strong scrutiny and assurance around the delivery of increased operational capacity. Police Scotland and the SPA must demonstrate that additional capacity is being delivered before police officer recruitment is slowed. The chief constable will continue to review Police Scotland’s capacity and capability in the context of any new and emerging threats.

The plans that Police Scotland has set out up to 2019-20 show that the number of police officers will remain well above the number that we inherited in 2007. I remain strongly committed to that. Any proposals beyond three years must be subject to full consultation when Police Scotland refreshes its strategy for 2020 onwards.

Policing 2026 is clear that the SPA and Police Scotland are working to a three-year plan to deliver financial sustainability. To support Police Scotland’s work, the Government has committed to protecting the police resource budget in real terms in every year of this parliamentary session—that is a boost of £100 million by 2021—and we have committed a further £61 million in 2017-18 to support the delivery of policing 2026. I continue to press the UK Government to address the glaring VAT disparity that has already cost Scotland’s police and fire services £140 million—that figure could increase to a total of £280 million by the end of the session.

The 2026 programme is ambitious and challenging. Clear governance and the SPA’s effectiveness in supporting and holding Police Scotland to account for delivery will be crucial to its success. Decision making must be open and transparent, with service improvement driven through collaboration with partners, communities, officers and staff.

As Cabinet Secretary for Justice, I will take a close interest in how the strategy is being delivered. Over the next couple of months, I expect the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland to develop robust implementation and financial plans that demonstrate how they will work towards a sustainable and effective service that delivers the ambitions in policing 2026.

I know that the public and Parliament expect strong governance and accountability in policing. The SPA and HMICS must work together to play a vital role in the oversight of implementation, and particularly in providing additional assurance that the increase in operational capacity is being delivered and that it is delivering improvements.

I end by talking about the police officers and staff throughout Scotland who protect us all. We ask many of those men and women to take risks and do things that few of us would have the courage to do. The strategy is focused on making their jobs more rewarding and allowing them to better use their time in protecting the public and strengthening our communities. Police Scotland and the SPA must work hand in hand with their workforces and representatives to support and energise them to realise that change.

Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con)

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his statement.

The police are the service of first and last resort. However, it is stated on page 22 of “Policing 2026: Our 10 year strategy for policing in Scotland” that

“Crime figures are not an accurate measure of demand: Only 1 in 5 incidents attended by police result in a crime being recorded ... Considering recorded crime in isolation is therefore not an accurate measure of demand on policing services.”

What is the cabinet secretary doing to ensure more accurate recording of the demands on police time? How can the police numbers that are required to cope with that demand be decided without that accurate data? What impact will the failed i6 project have on the 2026 strategy?

Michael Matheson

On Margaret Mitchell’s latter point, the i6 project predated the 2026 strategy, so it had already been taken into account in the new strategy.

On demand, the member will acknowledge that recorded crime demonstrates only incidents that have been recorded as crimes. About 80 per cent of the almost 3 million calls that Police Scotland receives each year do not relate to crimes; a large number of them deal with issues including vulnerability. As is set out in the 2026 strategy, Police Scotland intends to change the way in which it assesses vulnerability, with the introduction of the THRIVE—threat, harm, risk, investigation, vulnerability and engagement—system, which will more effectively assess an individual’s vulnerability in order to ensure that they receive an appropriate response to their needs. The chief constable believes that he needs to adapt the workforce to reflect the changing demands on the service, including demand relating to different types of crimes. For example, the organisation requires a specific skill set to deal effectively with the increasing number of cybercrime cases.

Margaret Mitchell will be aware that we are—as I said in my statement—providing additional resources for mental health, some of which will go to Police Scotland so that it can base mental health staff in its contact, command and control centres to support staff on the ground and ensure that any individual who is being dealt with by those staff gets the most appropriate response.

Margaret Mitchell has raised an important issue about demand on the service, which highlights exactly why we need to adapt Police Scotland’s workforce and ensure that the necessary skills exist to support the police in their job, and that the systems are in place to help the police to meet the needs of individuals who present as vulnerable. That is exactly at the heart of the 2026 strategy.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I thank the cabinet secretary for an advance copy of the statement.

It is disappointing that the cabinet secretary has not made time for a statement about the SPA. It is not possible to deliver this ambitious strategy for policing without a functioning SPA that commands public confidence, so it is vital that the situation in the SPA be resolved. I welcome the publication of the strategy and I thank the dedicated officers and staff who serve in our police force across the country.

In order to achieve transformation, Police Scotland must plug the black hole that is at the heart of its financial budget. Is the cabinet secretary confident that the strategy will achieve that, or will we be faced with another critical Audit Scotland report?

Many of the difficulties that are experienced by Police Scotland sit at the door of a Scottish National Party Government that ties itself to a policy of having extra police officers, but it does not properly fund that policy, which has led to support staff being cut and officers backfilling roles. The chief constable has presented a plan to address that. The cabinet secretary says that no decision will be taken regarding recruitment unless there is a planned increase in operational policing capacity. Considering the financial difficulties that are facing the police, how does he expect that to be possible?

Michael Matheson

Claire Baker raises an important issue about transformation. A key part of what is at the heart of the 2026 strategy is the transformation of Police Scotland and, in particular, its corporate functions, to ensure that they more effectively support front-line police officers. One of the real challenges of amalgamating eight forces into one has been in ensuring that a single system operates right across the country. That is the very reason why we have increased funding of the police reform budget this year to £61 million to support that transformational work. As the member will see in the strategy, that work is about releasing additional capacity that is presently held up in the corporate side of the organisation, in order that it can focus that capacity much more on front-line resources. The way in which the service is configured at present is holding up resource that could be better deployed in other parts of the organisation. That is at the very heart of the strategy.

The strategy sets out the broader approach that Police Scotland will be taking forward. As I mentioned in my statement, the SPA, along with Police Scotland, will now engage with key stakeholders on the implementation plan, and on the financial plan that goes alongside the 2026 strategy. That will be absolutely key to ensuring that what is set out in the strategy is delivered. That is exactly why they are working to a three-year programme, which is about delivering financial sustainability and transformation within the organisation. Over the coming months, the financial plan and implementation plan will allow key stakeholders to express their view on how they will go about achieving the strategy over the next three years.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that Police Scotland must be able to adapt, as it sees necessary, to the changing nature of crime that it faces in today’s world?

Michael Matheson

No member in the chamber will be in any doubt about the changing nature of the crime that our police service faces. There are challenges such as the increasing threat of cybercrime and online fraud, as well as the recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, so it is absolutely crucial that Police Scotland has the resources, capacity and capability to meet those challenges head on. That is why the policing 2026 strategy has been developed.

The strategy is the first 10-year strategy for policing in Scotland. It is challenging to imagine what the situation will be like in 10 years, but we can, nevertheless, ensure that we build on the key strengths that exist in Police Scotland so that we can address the existing, new and emerging threats as they develop in the months and years ahead.

Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s assurances on police numbers, and I hope that he agrees that a baseline level of officers is required in rural communities to ensure safe coverage and provision, which should not just be based on the number of crimes that are committed. I hope that, as we look to build capacity, there is not a disproportionate drop in officer numbers in rural communities.

Michael Matheson

I recognise the important issue that Oliver Mundell has raised, but he will recognise that it is an operational matter for the chief constable, working in conjunction with local commanders, to determine the level of policing that is delivered in a particular command area.

However, that is an important issue. In large geographical areas, it can take an extended time for officers to respond to an incident, which can stretch their capacity. It is important that the model that is used by the service recognises the challenges in rural areas. If the member compares the draft strategy with the final version, he might be interested to note that one of the key areas that has been addressed is the rural aspect of policing, in order to ensure that it continues to be strengthened and to be a key part of the 2026 programme of work.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I draw members’ attention to the fact that I have a close family member who is a police constable.

Is the cabinet secretary aware that section 41 of the Value Added Tax Act 1994 empowers the Treasury

“Where VAT is chargeable on the supply of goods or services to a Government department”

to direct the commissioners to refund VAT? On 1 April 2015 in England, such a direction was made to allow the Highways Agency to retrieve its VAT, and the introduction of academy schools has led to a similar effect. Is not it time that the Treasury was fair to Scottish interests and allowed us to regain the VAT that we have paid on our police force?

Michael Matheson

Stewart Stevenson has raised an important point. As I mentioned in my statement, the cost of not being able to reclaim VAT for our police and fire services in Scotland has been £140 million so far and could, by the end of this parliamentary session, be almost double that figure.

I know that many members will say that we were warned about that when we created Police Scotland: I do not reject that argument. However, I reject the idea that the Treasury does not have the power to give a VAT exemption to, or the ability to return VAT to, Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

As Stewart Stevenson made reference to, and as I have made reference to on a number of occasions in the chamber, the Treasury has, when it has suited it to do so, allowed a national organisation to reclaim VAT. However, for some reason, when it comes to Scotland’s key emergency services, the Conservative UK Government refuses to do the same. It will be telling if the new Scottish Conservative MPs in Westminster continue to vote against the Scottish police and fire services being allowed to reclaim VAT. That is unacceptable, so it is about time that Conservative members stood up for Scotland’s police and fire services.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Will the cabinet secretary help me to understand the relationship between operational policing and political control?

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his statement. In it, he rightly talked about asking HMICS to work with the SPA and Police Scotland to “develop a robust methodology” to supply evidence and to provide “strong scrutiny and assurance” around delivery of increased operational capacity. He also talked about expectations about the development of implementation plans, and he said that there is a sufficiency of resource that he will keep under constant review.

What is the mechanism for parliamentarians in this chamber to shape policy on the deployment of armed officers? In particular, how can we shape a situation in which any de-escalation of threat out there is mirrored by a removal of firearms from police officers and their return to the armoury?

Michael Matheson

John Finnie will recognise that decisions about the deployment of firearms officers are an operational matter for the chief constable. Last year, I made a statement to Parliament about increasing the firearms capability in Police Scotland because there was going to be a breach of the 2 per cent threshold that had been given as an undertaking by the previous chief constable. He said that, if the number of firearms officers were to increase beyond 2 per cent of the force, he would raise the matter for the Parliament and the Government to consider. The increase last year was going to take us beyond that 2 per cent threshold, which is why I made that statement.

John Finnie will recall that, in my statement, I made it clear that any decision to change the mode in which firearms officers were being deployed would require wide consultation with key stakeholders including the Government and the Parliament. He will recognise that, at the moment, firearms officers are used for firearms incidents or where there is a threat to life. If that was to change, the issue would have to be considered through an open consultation and engagement programme with Police Scotland and key stakeholders, including the Parliament and the Government, so that we would have an opportunity to express our views on the matter. I am conscious that there are those who are pressing for change in the area for a number of reasons. If there is to be a debate on the matter, everyone should have the opportunity to express their views in it.

The Presiding Officer

I will try to squeeze some more questions in. I ask members to be as brief as possible.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his statement, and I put on record my thanks to officers and staff for the work that they do.

The police consistently tell us that mental health issues are one of the biggest challenges that they face. Given that we expect additional mental health staff to be shared across accident and emergency departments, prisons, general practice surgeries—of which there are around 1,000—and the police, how many of the 800 additional mental health staff who have been referred to by the cabinet secretary are expected to be placed with the national force? What will their role or roles be and when will they become available?

Michael Matheson

Liam McArthur recognises that mental health is a significant issue for the police service, which faces demand as a result of calls to it. A pilot that was run in Glasgow in conjunction with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde allowed officers to use a mental health out-of-hours service to approach mental health workers for advice when they were working with individuals who had come into contact with the police, with a view to reducing the number of individuals who were taken into custody. That pilot was very successful and it continues to run in the Glasgow area. The police are looking to roll it out in the Lothians area as well.

The pilot did not require mental health workers to be deployed with the police; it used existing arrangements much more effectively to address such issues. We are considering the deployment of mental health workers in contact, command and control centres to advise those who have taken a call and those who are deploying resources to communicate directly with and give advice to staff and officers on the ground and to make links to other external agencies as and when that is appropriate. The number of people involved is still to be finalised, but the idea is to reduce the need for individuals with mental health problems to end up in custody. It is about making sure that the resource is deployed on the right side of the gate, before someone ends up in custody. It will involve deploying staff in contact, command and control centres, but they may also be deployed at custody centres, where individuals come into custody. The scale and nature of the deployment is still to be determined, but there is a clear determination to make sure that it happens, because we know from the Glasgow pilot that it works effectively in reducing the need for individuals with mental health problems to go into custody.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

Relationships between communities and local police are important to my constituents and, I think, to others, especially if there can be continuity with the police. Does the cabinet secretary feel that the new strategy will impact on those local relationships?

Michael Matheson

Local policing is key to the success of policing overall. It is key even to the sophisticated capabilities of Police Scotland to deal with major issues such as terrorism. Preventing such things from happening in the first place is about having strong, resilient and cohesive communities alongside trusted police who are part of those communities. That is at the heart of the 2026 strategy.

Local policing will be strengthened as a result of the strategy, which is about improving the police’s capacity and capability to undertake that engagement work. That will ensure that the strong links that the police have with communities are built on and developed in the future. We can see that from the SPA’s annual review. Local authorities are feeding back, and strong partnerships exist already. The 2026 strategy is about building on that work and putting local policing at the heart of our policing model.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I welcome the commitment that underpins the strategy by emphasising the importance of strong community policing. However, today’s statement made no mention of the on-going estates review and the role of police stations throughout the country. I know that the future of local stations in Hamilton, Larkhall and Shotts, in my region, is under scrutiny. Without a firm commitment that local police stations will not be subject to closure, how can we be sure that strong community policing will continue to be delivered until 2026?

Michael Matheson

As I have said in the chamber previously, our police estate has developed over the course of the past 100 years. We need to make sure that it is fit for purpose and that it can support the delivery of local policing.

The member might be aware that, in many areas where the estate is being reviewed, that is being done with a view to the police either staying in a facility and bringing in other partners to support them or moving to another facility in the local area so that they can work in partnership with other agencies. That is key to ensuring that we are delivering effective local policing. It is important that we are in those partnerships, and that is a key part of the estates strategy.

I have also made it clear that local commanders will have a say in determining which areas of the estate are to be changed. If there is a decision to be made about a local police station, it will be a matter for the local commander to refer it through the chain of command for it to be considered with the oversight of the SPA. That partnership is key and is at the heart of the 2026 strategy. That is why part of the estates review is about building on that and establishing effective partnerships that deliver better outcomes for local communities by delivering the important local policing that the member referred to.

Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con)

The cabinet secretary has referred to the unfortunate necessity of putting more resources into fighting terrorism and cybercrime, which bring their own administrative work and challenges for the police force. We have also seen a recent increase in violent crime.

People not just in rural communities but in cities such as Edinburgh are concerned about police response times. How can local people be assured that sufficient resources are available to the police, so that they can sleep safely in their beds? Many are so concerned that they cannot.

Michael Matheson

If there is an issue with response times in relation to incidents in a particular command area, the member should take it up directly with the local commander.

As the Government has shown in our commitment to policing, during the next parliamentary term we will give real-terms protection to the police budget, which will allow us to invest an extra £100 million in the police service. Alongside that is the additional £61 million that will be delivered in this year’s police reform budget to support the important work to improve capability and capacity that has been set out in the 2026 strategy. That is absolutely key to the strategy, as the chief constable has set out.

The aim is to improve the police’s operational capability and capacity to meet the needs of local communities, to reflect the changing demands that they face and to work with other partners to manage demand much more effectively—demand that ends up coming to the police but that should be met by another organisation or service. We have to release that capacity so that policing matters can be dealt with much more effectively.

Those issues are at the heart of the strategy. If the member has a particular concern about response times in his region, I encourage him to discuss that with the local commander and see how it can be addressed.

The Presiding Officer

Fulton MacGregor is next. Be very brief indeed, please.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

Will the cabinet secretary provide details of how police officer numbers in Scotland compare with police officer numbers in England and Wales?

Michael Matheson

Unlike the picture in England and Wales, since 2007 police numbers in Scotland have been increasing. In England and Wales, police numbers have decreased by almost 20,000. We believe that policing is a key part of supporting our communities and keeping them safe and, as a Government, we will continue to pursue policies that deliver that.

The Presiding Officer

I apologise to those members who did not get to ask a question.