Opposition parties call for fundamental change in Scottish Police Authority in light of critical HMICS report

Written by Jenni Davidson on 23 June 2017 in News

Governance of the SPA has been scrutinised in several Scottish Parliament committees

Scottish Parliament windows - Image credit: Holyrood

Opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament, as well as the chairs of the Justice Committee and Justice Sub-Committee on Policing have called for significant changes to the management of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) in light of a critical report by HMICS.

Acting convener of the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee Jackie Baillie MSP said: “We welcome Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary report and we’re pleased to see that our serious concerns about the SPA have been taken into account.

“We also note that the report identified issues and shortcomings with the SPA Chief Executive Officer John Foley.

“Our committee was unimpressed with Mr Foley’s evidence, and this is something which is obviously shared by HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland Derek Penman.

“It's now time for the SPA to embrace these recommendations, improve its tarnished reputation and restore public confidence.”

Scottish Labour’s justice spokesperson Claire Baker MSP said: “This report highlights what we have known for a long time; the SPA is in need of a drastic overhaul from its board to senior management.

“Any accountability and transparency we would expect to see at such an organisation has been lacking.

 “The chair may have finally fallen on his sword but this can only be the start of the authority’s attempts to try and regain the public’s confidence.

 “Chief executive John Foley now has serious questions to answer over his role and the criticisms in this report.

“A complete overhaul of the management structure at the SPA is now needed and the chief executive must consider his position.

 “To lose one chair of the SPA would be considered careless but to lose two chairs and a chief constable in only four years of Police Scotland and the SPA is shambolic.

 “The Scottish Government must now come to Parliament and make an urgent statement on the future of the SPA. This cannot be allowed to drag out over summer recess.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur said: “The public will be horrified at this report which highlights once again the culture of secrecy that has taken hold at the SPA.

“A body that is meant to shine a light on policing matters has been found to be actively trying to prevent issues being scrutinised and ‘played out in the media’. 

“This report amounts to a long list of the SPA’s shortcomings on transparency and openness.

“Much of this can be traced back to the flawed centralising legislation which the SNP forced through Parliament, which explains why the Scottish Government has been so reluctant to bring forward the changes that are so clearly needed. 

“The SPA must use this report, the criticism from two parliamentary committees and the recent resignation of Andrew Flanagan as the impetus for root and branch reform.

“An SPA lurching from crisis to crisis is in no-one’s interests. 

“It is bad news for the officers and staff, who rely on it for support and the public and it is bad news for the public if the SPA is contriving to keep them out of the loop.”

At a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing to discuss the report, Green justice spokesperson raised concerns about liaison with bodies representing officers and other police staff.

He said: “It is imperative the Scottish Police Authority engages regularly with the Scottish Police Federation, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents and UNISON.

“It is extremely concerning that this does not currently seem to be happening effectively.

“I find it difficult to understand how the SPA can have an informed overview of policing if they are failing to do this.

He added: “I was particularly concerned that the report referred to the SPA board member’s full confidence in the chair.

“I find it difficult to believe that the board members, having seen the detailed concerns raised by two committees of the Scottish Parliament, still express such support. This itself raises serious questions about the board.

“It is clear from the report, and the evidence provided to the sub-committee by Mr Penman, that the chief executive and the chair of the SPA have a chaotic relationship. There are clearly issues around the capacity of the chief executive.

“The Cabinet Secretary for Justice must take urgent action following this report to ensure that there is public confidence in the Scottish Police Authority and to enable it to perform its vital function effectively.”

Meanwhile the Scottish Conservatives have called on the Scottish Government to be stripped of the right to appoint the chair of the SPA.

They would like the next chair to be publicly appointed, in a similar way to the Scottish public services ombudsman, by a cross-party panel of MSPs chaired by the presiding officer.

Speaking in the policing sub-committee meeting, Scottish Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell, convener of the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee, said: “We are now on to our third SPA chair in just over four years.

“It’s self-evident that the previous chairs have lacked the necessary skills and experience, on issues like handling the media, to justify their appointment.

“Coupled with this, there has always been a concern about their independence, given they owe their appointment to the Scottish ministers of the day.

“It’s now time to review the appointment by ministers and consider appointing the SPA chair in an open and transparent manner.”

The HMICS report was published this week following concerns raised about transparency and governance of the SPA, and in particular treatment of former board member Moi Ali.

The report by HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Derek Penman acknowledge there had been positive signs of improvement over the last 18 months.

However, it criticised the decision to hold some SPA committee meetings in private, the agreement of a new governance strategy without sufficient engagement with stakeholders and shortcomings in the senior management and chief executive.

Justice secretary Michael Matheson has already announced a review of the support given to the SPA board in light of the ongoing issues.

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