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by Jenni Davidson
05 December 2019
Susan Deacon resigns as chair of the Scottish Police Authority, saying police governance is ‘fundamentally flawed’

Susan Deacon - Image credit: David Anderson/Holyrood

Susan Deacon resigns as chair of the Scottish Police Authority, saying police governance is ‘fundamentally flawed’

Susan Deacon has resigned as chair of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) saying that the governance and accountability arrangements for policing in Scotland were “fundamentally flawed”.

Deacon said she had made “every effort” to make the existing statutory framework function but had concluded there was “little more” she could do to make them work in practice.

The former Labour MSP and health minister advised the Scottish Government to “think afresh” about how Police Scotland is held to account.

In her resignation letter to Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, she wrote: “I consider it a privilege to have played a part in developing and strengthening policing in Scotland and I am pleased that I leave this role with our police service in a much stronger place than it was when I was first appointed, exactly two years ago.

“I have, as you have frequently acknowledged, worked tirelessly to try and ensure that the SPA operates effectively, and that public confidence and trust in policing is maintained.

“I have also made every effort to attempt to make the existing statutory framework operate as I believe it was intended.

“In truth, however, I have increasingly become convinced that the governance and accountability arrangements for policing in Scotland are fundamentally flawed, in structure, culture and practice, and I conclude that there is little more I can do to make these arrangements work effectively.

“I would suggest that the Scottish Government thinks afresh about how the police service is scrutinised and held to account and how, or if a better separation between politics and policing, and indeed between the police service and those who oversee it, can be achieved.

“I would be pleased to share my thoughts and reflections on these matters with you, and indeed with the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, at any time.”

The Scottish Police Authority has been beset by problems since it was set up in 2013 at the time the regional police forces were combined to create Police Scotland.

The SPA is responsible for oversight of Police Scotland and is meant to hold the chief constable to account, but questions have been raised over its effectiveness.

Susan Deacon was appointed to the post two years ago after her predecessor, Andrew Flanagan, resigned from the post after being criticised by two parliamentary committees and HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary over issues of transparency and his treatment of a former board member.

Andrea MacDonald, chair of the Scottish Police Federation, said: “The resignation of Susan Deacon does not come as a surprise to those in and around policing.

“It has been apparent to the Scottish Police Federation that the Authority has not been operating effectively for some time.

“It is nonetheless disappointing that we now see the Scottish Police Authority looking for its fourth Chair in six years.

“Susan Deacon took charge of the SPA at a very difficult time.

“The funding for policing has never been under greater pressure, at a time the service itself has never faced greater demand.

“Her efforts in managing that irreconcilable conflict deserve to be recognised and we wish her every success in whatever the future holds.”

Following Deacon’s resignation, vice-chair David Crichton will lead the SPA board until a new chair is appointed.

Commenting on her resignation, he paid tribute to the “significant contribution” Deacon had made as chair and Police Scotland’s “strong, resilient leadership” was a “testimony to her contribution to the improvement of policing”.

However, he added: “We believe that the system of governance and accountability for policing in Scotland that was envisaged by the founding legislation is a sound one and can work effectively.

“Members of the authority are fully committed to taking forward the range of work required within the SPA and with other partners to do so.

“While we respect this personal decision of the chair, our collective focus will be on working together with our dedicated staff team to build on recent progress, deliver the actions and improvements already identified, and redouble the SPA’s focus on the issues of greatest importance to policing and the public.”

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