Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
by David Kennedy, General Secretary, Scottish Police Federation
17 June 2024
Associate Feature: Force for Change

Partner content

Associate Feature: Force for Change

What would your organisation like to see next from devolution? 
The creation of Police Scotland in 2013 was controversial then and still is now. It is no exaggeration to say that we are on our knees, policing with one hand tied behind our backs and struggling to meet the demands placed on us. Regardless of structure we need to focus on strategy, what should the police be doing? Is its core aims and values the right ones? Is it properly financed and resourced? Is it politically independent? Is it accountable, nationally and locally? Is the governance and accountability structure working?

These questions need to be revisited and the police given much higher priority than heretofore. We need to address what is becoming a recruiting crisis. We used to have 10 people waiting for one job, now it’s more like one for one job. We are struggling to meet future vacancies and the job simply is not attractive enough. There are pay restoration issues and work-life balance issues to be addressed and only when that is done will we attract enough recruits of the right quality.

How might the Scottish Parliament help your organisation accomplish your aims in the coming years?
It has got to reverse years of cuts and examine where money is being spent. The major driver for a single service was to save money. The annual budget was cut by around £200m and that was never replaced. This will amount to over £2bn by 2026. We have been asset-stripped and used as a cash cow.

Our fleet is in a poor state, we have concerns about large numbers of electric vehicles being purchased without the necessary charging facilities. Our police offices and stations are in a poor state of repair.  Some police-provided accommodation is not fit for human habitation. Our uniforms are in a poor state and are shabby.

We have lost 1,000 officers since 2013 and closed around 140 police stations.  

There has been a chronic lack of investment in training and equipment. To be the last police service in the UK to have body-worn video and to have hundreds of officers driving police cars without being properly trained is downright dangerous to both the public and the police. Yet, we spend millions of pounds on equality and diversity – £2.4m in the last five years. We spend further millions on HR and other back office staff producing mountains of paperwork and ever changing policies which add no value to the service we provide to the public.

How do you think devolution has changed Scotland?
SPF, as a non-party political organisation, did not take a for or against position on devolution. Some felt it would fuel nationalism, be an unnecessary extra tier of government, more politicians, more spending, more fractionalisation within Scotland. Others felt it would bring better representation and more open, focussed and accessible government. SPF does not have a settled position on these matters and can probably be described as  ambivalent – however, whether you were for or against devolution it has undoubtedly had the ability to give Scotland the best police service in the world and it remains to be seen what the next 25 years will bring.

What has been the greatest highlight for your organisation during the past 25 years? 
We deal with major events as well if not better than any police service in the world. The G8, Commonwealth Games, COP26, Her Majesty the Queen’s funeral, all were handled well. This is largely down to the willingness of police officers to disrupt their working and private lives to do what they see as their duty. We are under enormous pressure to provide day to day policing but I am always very impressed with how major events are policed. 

How has your organisation changed since 1999?
No public service has changed as much as the police in the 25 years of the Scottish Parliament. Virtually nothing has remained the same, the legislative framework, the structure, the remit, governance, uniform, workload – everything has changed. We spend enormous amounts of time dealing with mental health issues and the new ‘proportionate response’, where some crimes are not investigated, has resulted in a very different service from the one I joined 28 years ago. Change is a constant and as times change, so too must the police. ‘Police force’ becomes police service and that is fine, but to change, as we have, from a disciplined service to one run by HR is much more controversial. The police used to deal with people for what they had done, then for what they had said, now for what they think. Our focus has shifted from crime and disorder to identity politics, equality and diversity and that is controversial.

We deal with major events as well if not better than any police service in the world. The G8, Commonwealth Games, COP26, Her Majesty the Queen’s funeral, all were handled well. This is largely down to the willingness of police officers to disrupt their working and private lives to do what they see as their duty

How do you think your sector will evolve in the next 25 years? 
My crystal ball is no better than anyone else’s but the single service structure is not necessarily here for all time. Provided we can settle on what the police should and should not be doing, the structure may need to be revisited. We are seen by some as being too large, too remote with too much distance between headquarters and the street where the impact of strategic decisions is felt. Policing with the consent of the public and local accountability are the keys in my view and that needs attention. 

What policy/bill/law from the past 25 years has had the most profound effect (either positive or negative) on your organisation/sector/industry? 
The Hate Crime Act is a farce, the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act was not much better. The law should not be used as a publicity stunt or a glorified press release. The Scottish Parliament committee structure was supposed to lead to better legislation but in the field of criminal justice I don’t think that has happened. Insufficient thought is put into the operational challenges and the costs are always grossly underestimated.

What do you believe was the biggest moment in Scottish politics from the past 25 years? 
The biggest political moment in Scottish politics from the past 25 years was the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. The referendum had a profound impact on Scottish and UK politics. It led to the increased devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament and significantly influenced the political landscape, fuelling ongoing debates about Scotland’s constitutional future.

Where were you in your career in 1999? 
In 1999 I was a uniformed patrol officer in Glasgow, and I do get extremely concerned about the vast lack of patrol police officers now in Scotland. In Scotland we police by consent for the community. We have to make sure that Scotland’s police remain as it should be, independent of government and linked to the communities we serve.

What’s your earliest memory of devolution?
My earliest memory of devolution is of that very first day. Scotland is a wonderful country, and the world has so much to thank our tiny nation for. Our justice system and police service used to be what other countries aspired to… lets hope that one day we can get back to where we should and need to be. 

This article is sponsored by Scottish Police Federation

For more information:

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top