Delivery of forensic services in Scotland ‘at risk’ without investment and leadership

Written by Jenni Davidson on 28 June 2017 in News

Derek Penman of HMICS criticised the SPA for its poor governance and lack of strategy in delivering forensic services

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Derek Penman - Image credit: Parliament TV

The delivery of forensic services in Scotland could be at risk without ongoing investment and better governance, an inspection report has found.

The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) was criticised for its management of forensic services, in a report published this week by HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland Derek Penman.

However, he praised forensics staff and management for maintaining a quality service during a time of change and financial pressure.

Among the key criticisms are that SPA governance and scrutiny of forensic services is weak and there has been no identifiable strategy for the delivery of forensic services in Scotland for over four years.

Penman called performance reporting “immature” and said it limited effective scrutiny, while he found communication and engagement between management, staff and unions “weak”.


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The report also said there had been an inability to significantly improve the management of demand found inconsistency of processes across Police Scotland due to legacy computer systems and divisional approaches.

Penman has made 23 recommendations for improvement, including that the SPA should deliver a forensic strategy with a supporting investment plan, aligned with those of Police Scotland and Crown Office, and that the SPA should review governance structure for forensic services.

Penman said: “Generally there has been a lack of progress across the majority of improvement areas which were previously highlighted to both the SPA and Police Scotland.

“These can be attributed to a lack of resource to progress improvements, weaknesses in strategic leadership, a lack of effective support from the SPA board and its partners.

“I would also note that at the request of the SPA chair, HMICS provided professional advice on options for future governance and delivery of forensic services in October 2016.

“This advice was not taken up and the SPA board approved a revised corporate governance framework in December 2016 which did not address the issues we had identified.

“I have therefore taken the opportunity to reconsider these issues and have incorporated them into our inspection report.

“We should be proud of the forensic service in Scotland. It has many attributes which should be valued: its independence, its advanced science, its quality approach, and its staff.

“However, without ongoing investment, changes in governance and structure, strengthening strategic leadership and a commitment to continuous improvement, the delivery of forensic services will be at risk.”

Responding to the report, the SPA acknowledged there were issues, but also underlined the quality of forensic services in Scotland.

SPA board member Nicola Marchant said: "This HMICS report highlights that Scotland benefits from a forensic service which has increased its output, is delivering to a high-quality and has benefited from significant investment in technology and modern facilities.

"Forensic science in Scotland is at the forefront of UK and International standards employing the latest scientific technologies and this is something we would not want anyone to lose sight of.

"Four years ago, the SPA inherited a national forensic service that was juggling the demands placed on it by the Crown Office and nine separate police forces.

"Establishing a single service and a single police customer represented an opportunity to understand and better manage demand and capacity.

"Following reform, the priority was on managing the largest merger since devolution and maintaining services.

"Over the last 12-months, the board of the SPA has progressed the development of Policing 2026, an overarching strategy and direction for policing which has been approved by the SPA board and endorsed by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

"We are now developing a strategy for Forensic Services which recognises and is underpinned by innovative and leading science.

"The forensics strategy will effectively support the direction outlined for policing over the next 10 years.

"The structure of Forensic Services has been the subject of ongoing consideration and the direction set out by HMICS is a welcome input to the board's consideration going forward.

"However, clearly there are implications and a number of steps required to achieve the recommended approach and this will take time to progress.

“The board has also acknowledged previously that oversight of forensic services can be improved and we have taken steps to strengthen governance and assurance of the function by establishing a dedicated forensic committee."

SPA's director of forensic services Tom Nelson added: "Forensic Services has undergone significant improvements in the last four years with investment in world leading facilities and our scientific capabilities which has seen the service become the first UK provider to gain UKAS accreditation in fingerprint comparison, introduce new accredited DNA24 chemistries and a national image management system.

"Scientific advances, coupled with significant investment in new and emerging technologies means Forensic Services is providing better results for policing in Scotland and the wider justice system.

“With this has come ever increasing service demands and complexity which we are working with partners to effectively manage.

"I welcome HMICS recognition of the high quality of work undertaken by our committed and professional Forensic Services workforce, particularly the contribution they make in the most serious and complex of crimes. 

"We value greatly the contribution of Forensic Services staff and recognise their commitment to the profession.

"The report also raises important issues around communication and engagement with our staff which we acknowledged and will work to address these in the coming months.”

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