New Police Scotland chief calls for 'grown-up conversation' on future of policing

Written by on 7 January 2016 in News

Phil Gormley recognises he will face "relentless scrutiny" after being sworn in as Scotland's second chief constable

Scotland’s new chief constable has called for a “grown-up conversation” on the future shape of policing as he declared there is no “magic number” when it comes to officers north of the border.

Phil Gormley, who was sworn in as chief constable of Police Scotland earlier this week, said it would be “naïve not to be concerned” about immediate financial pressures facing the single force.

However, the former National Crime Agency deputy director general – who expects to face “relentless” scrutiny in his new role – underlined the need to embark on a conversation about demands facing police over the next decade and how they should be prioritised.


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He said it is “perfectly legitimate” to want to maintain a visible policing presence, albeit signalled the need for a wider discussion about the type of resources needed to tackle an evolving crime picture.

The SNP government has confirmed its intention to maintain a longstanding commitment to keep officer numbers above 17,234 until 2017 at least. It comes against a backdrop of concerns that civilian staff members continue to face the brunt of cuts as a result.

In a press briefing at Police Scotland’s Tulliallan HQ - his first since taking up the job - Gormley refused to be drawn on the policy decision but made clear that choices would need to be made in order to deliver a “sustainable operating model”.

He said: “I’m not going to start to get into a conversation on day two about numbers. What I do think we need to do is sensibly lay out what are the challenges that policing Scotland presents to the service charged with keeping the country safe and then have a conversation about how do we best discharge that duty.

“I don’t think there is a magic number. I understand that there is an absolute ambition and a perfectly legitimate desire to see a visible policing presence on the streets of Scotland and that is right. I also know with a limited budget some crime types require investments in technology or capability that is not just simply – and I don’t mean it in a disparaging way – people.

“As the world changes, it’s [about] how do we make sure we are in the best position to protect people and that will be a combination of technical capability, new techniques, investments in forensic science, and people. Where we draw the balance is a conversation that has got to develop.”

Gormley said a “grown-up conversation” is needed on “what we need to best protect the public [and] what are the capabilities we need to develop” in light of the increasing threat emanating from online.

“The reality is the mission of Police Scotland has to be about providing the best service and protection possible within the money that’s available and that will lead to some conversations about what the priorities are,” he added.

“I think we need to do that in an open, consultative way because I think the public will need to make some decisions, as will politicians, around what is it that they value, what do we need to do to best protect people from harm, and we need to explain the consequences of those choices.”

An Audit Scotland report last month identified a potential funding gap of £85m by 2018-19. “There will inevitably be choices that we have to make in terms of the sort of service that we deliver because demand is escalating, crime is changing and there is a finite public resource available,” Gormley added.

Gormley acknowledged it is “self-evident” there have been “some significant issues of major public concern” over the past 12 months but stressed that Scots’ experience of policing day-to-day is “not typified” by recent controversies.

“There are some very significant reputational issues that the service will have to confront and will have to confront over the next few months. But I think people will judge the service by their own lived experience of it,” he added.

Such warnings as those issued by the head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council down south that going forward the public should not expect to see a police officer after crimes like housebreakings do not extend to Scotland, Gormley told reporters.

The former Norfolk Constabulary chief constable, who described his predecessor as an “incredible professional”, confirmed he had spoken to Sir Stephen House since his appointment last month but would not share what if any advice he had passed on.

Gormley came out on top from a three-man shortlist that included two of his deputy chief constables – Neil Richardson and Iain Livingstone – while speculation remains rife that a number of senior officers are preparing to quit or retire before the year is out. 

Asked if he has urged any of his senior colleagues contemplating leaving the force to stay, he added: “I am in the process of having conversations with all of my senior command team.”

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