Scottish parliament policing committee criticises leadership of Scottish Police Authority

Written by Jenni Davidson on 26 May 2017 in News

The Justice Sub-Committee on Policing has written to the Justice Secretary outlining its concerns

Scottish Parliament - Image credit: unknown

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing has published a report criticising the management of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).

The report gives the conclusions from a sub-committee investigations, which follows a similar investigation by the Public Audit and Post-Legislative.

The investigation looks in particular at three areas: the decision by the SPA board to hold committee meetings in private, the decision by chair Andrew Flanagan not to circulate a letter of concern From HMICS about board meetings being held in private to other board members and the response by Flanagan to former board member Moi Ali asking publicly for it to be noted that she dissented from the board decision to hold meetings in private.

The decision to hold committee meetings in private was taken following a review of SPA governance last year, with the aim of allowing members to speak more freely when exploring issues, but it had been criticised for the consequent lack of transparency.

The sub-committee welcomed the recent reversal of the decision, calling it “a move in the right direction.”

It said: “This is good practice and it is difficult to comprehend why this approach was not recommended in the governance review.

“There is a need for some items to be taken in private, and the sub-committee appreciates Mr Flanagan’s assurance that respectful open debate on whether items should be taken in private will be encouraged going forward.

“Private committee meetings, issuing papers at the last minute, and reducing input from key stakeholders has damaged the relationship between the SPA and police staff, officers and superintendents.

“It has also raised questions within the police service and externally about the SPA's accountability, transparency and legitimacy.”

The committee also criticised Andrew Flanagan’s decision not to circulate a letter of concern from HMICS about the meetings being held in private to other board memebrs.

It commented: “Not circulating the HMICS letter to board members, as Her Majesty’s Inspector would have expected, was, in the sub-committee’s view, a serious error of judgement.”

The committee also took issue with Flanagan’s requirement that board members make their positions known before a public meeting if they dissent from the group position, which was the basis of his disagreement with former board member Moi Ali.

The sub-committee took the view that this is out of step with ‘On Board’ guidance on the management of boards and does not allow members to form a view at the meeting itself.

It said: “There is an important distinction between a united board and an effective board. It is not always one and the same.”

The committee concludes: “The Justice Sub-Committee on Policing agrees with the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee’s assessment that it is essential that the public and stakeholders be reassured that the SPA is performing to an appropriate standard.

“Unfortunately Mr Flanagan’s repeated use of the phrase ‘I have to accept’ did not reassure the sub-committee that he has a real belief and understanding that the actions that he took in relation to Moi Ali and in not circulating the HMICS letter, and repeatedly defended, were wrong.”

Commenting on its publication, sub-committee convener Mary Fee said: “Mr Flanagan’s testimony to the sub-committee was frankly inadequate and we do not have confidence in his leadership.

“Though he was apologetic, we are not confident he accepts he was wrong.

“This issue remains unresolved. We will continue working with the Scottish Police Authority, and other justice stakeholders, until we are confident the governance of the SPA is significantly improved.”

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, Derek Penman, is also carrying out a review of governance and transparency in the Scottish Police Authority, which will report to the Scottish Parliament next month.

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