Alex Neil criticises ‘totally unacceptable performance’ in police financial management
The Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee was questioning the Auditor General on police finances
Alex Neil - Image credit: Scottish Government Flickr
The financial management of the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland has been heavily criticised by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee.
SNP MSP Alex Neil suggested the senior leaders of both organisations should be asked to come before the committee because of a “totally unacceptable performance”, adding that the organisations appeared to be in “crisis” in terms of financial management.
The Auditor General, Caroline Gardner, was appearing before the committee yesterday to give evidence following on Audit’s Scotland critical report on Scottish police finances in December.
Her colleague, Audit Scotland assistant director Gillian Woolman, who carried out the audit explained that nine different versions of the accounts had been submitted over a period of six months before they could be signed off, which was “very unusual” and the audit had been “very challenging” to complete.
She also noted that there were staff shortages in key financial areas, particularly capital accounting, although work was now being done to fill those vacancies.
Alex Neil said: “It seems to me it’s not just weakness in terms of financial leadership. It’s weakness in terms of total management of the organisation.”
Following Caroline Gardner’s reply that the chief accountable officers were ultimately responsible, Neil continued: “We know what their responsibilities are, but the whole point is they’ve failed to live up to their responsibilities and carry out their responsibilities competently and satisfactorily and to an acceptable standard.”
He continued: “I definitely think the Auditor General’s suggestion of bringing the chair and the chief executive [of the SPA], I think, and the chief constable, should all be invited, together, to come to this committee, because this is a totally unacceptable performance and, as it’s already been pointed out, there’s a general lack of confidence in policing in Scotland at the moment. We know that morale is at rock bottom amongst the police force.
“I know the chief constable believes that he’s £60m short of the money he actually needs to do the job that he thinks he’s been asked to do, so we’ve got to give them their say, to see if this is part and parcel of the same problem, but this strikes me that this is an organisation in crisis in terms of the management of their finances. Would that be a fair description?
Gardner answered: “I’ve been reporting since 2013 on the difficulties that policing in Scotland has faced in forming a single police service and putting in place a strategy underpinned by a financial strategy that shows that policing will be sustainable for the future.
“That was one of the objectives of reform and it’s clearly unacceptable that we’re now three years on without that strategy in place.”
Other members of the Public Audit Committee were also critical about performance.
Colin Beattie noting it was “deeply disappointing” to have police financial leadership brought before them again and Monica Lennon raising issues around police station closures in light of a capital budget underspend and her concerns about a lack of transparency in the SPA.
Both the SPA and Police Scotland says work is underway to make improvements .
Following publication of the audit in December, SPA chair Andrew Flanagan said: “Over the last 9 months a number of significant improvements have been announced and implemented to strengthen financial management of policing.
“I am confident that the new arrangements translate to a step-change in policing’s approach to financial planning and control and will help address more fully the issues Audit Scotland raise within the current financial year.”
Meanwhile, Police Scotland is currently putting together a new strategy, Policing 2026, which will be published in the next few months, part of which will involve making policing financially sustainable.
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