Police family is broken, Labour claims amid call for emergency service change


A committee of MSPs should be set up to oversee Scotland's emergency services in a bid to end the "incestuous relationship" that can exist between ministers and senior officers, Labour's review of policing has concluded.

Justice spokesman Graeme Pearson, a former director general of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, conducted his own investigations in Police Scotland after the force was hit by a series of controversies.

While he backed Scotland having a single police force, he said the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) - the body set up to oversee Police Scotland - had "failed in its role".

Mr Pearson claimed the SPA had been "good ambulance-chasers after the events but they haven't been to the fore in questioning the chief constable on the options" such as the deployment of armed officers and controversial stop-and-search practices.

His review also said the Scottish Government "failed to ensure that the hand-picked board of the SPA were aware of their role and were equipped to carry it out".

Ministers also appear "to have failed to understand or has wilfully ignored the importance of ensuring the relationships" between Police Scotland, the SPA, the Scottish Parliament, ministers and others, so they all "work together to deliver an efficient and effective police service".

The review added: "As a result, we have witnessed a series of fudged outcomes, soft commentaries and reviews plainly designed to avoid the realities of what has gone wrong."

Publishing the review, Mr Pearson said: "What comes out very strongly is our Scottish police family is broken. The chasm that has opened up between support staff and police officers is very significant."

It makes 10 recommendations for change, including the need for parliamentary oversight of all emergency services and the need for resources to meet local need.

It also called for a "more robust SPA", with Mr Pearson saying: "I'm blue in the face talking about the SPA and their inability to hold this organisation to account."

Police Scotland is a "service we should be proud of," the Labour MSP said as he highlighted the need to "invest in it in terms of making sure they get the right management and oversight from the authority and the government".

He argued: "I think the Parliament is the mechanism by which we should ensure that the incestuous relationship which can sometimes exist between a cabinet secretary, a board and a chief constable, that we remove that incestuous relationship and let fresh air get into the system."

Labour's probe was launched after Police Scotland was hit by a series of controversies, with independent investigations under way into the death in custody of Fife man Sheku Bayoh and officers' failure to respond to reports of a fatal crash on the M9 in Stirlingshire.

Mr Pearson has spent the last two months travelling Scotland speaking to officers, civilian staff, community groups and victim support workers as part of the review.

He said: "During my meetings across the country, local people told me that the link between their communities and bobbies on the beat has been lost, despite the hard work and dedication of frontline officers.

"Those officers feel the breakdown too - the recent Police Scotland staff survey reported that officers feel they are losing touch with local people because of the 'one-size-fits-all' policing model.

"That's down to the SNP's drive to centralise and the failure of ministers to put in place proper structures to hold the police service to account. Those decisions by SNP ministers have led to increased pressure on our police officers."

He added: "Police Scotland needs a shake-up so that power once again lies with local decision-makers and we get back to the kind of community policing that made Scotland the envy of the world at one time."

He backed the creation of the single force, which was set up in 2013, but stated: "The fraud that was perpetrated was we were told it would be a locally-based police service, where local policing was the most important element."

The public were "told this new force would be more transparent and more accountable," he added, but claimed: "We haven't had a higher level of accountability because we haven't had the answers."

Mr Pearson also said: "The other element of the fraud is this notion that we've created a more effective and more cost-effective service. I don't see any evidence of that."

The review stated: "Put simply, the SPA has failed in its role to hold the Chief Constable to account and to provide robust governance of Police Scotland."

The SPA board should be "questioning and scrutinising policy changes" but the review claimed: "When it came to the policy change which saw a blanket standing authorisation issued to firearms officers and firearms officers on routine calls, the SPA did not receive a full and comprehensive briefing on the issue from the Chief Constable before implementation.

"It was rubber-stamped after the event as one policy change contained within a bulging folder of documents. There was no scrutiny."

If the SPA board had been "playing its role effectively some of the controversies that have beset Police Scotland would have been provided," it added.

The review also called for a "properly-balanced force", with Mr Pearson questioning the SNP's policy of maintaining 1,000 additional police officers while support staff are being cut.

"It seems to me crackers that seven years ago Alex Salmond promised there would be 1,000 additional officers and no matter what the force has adhered to that number," he said.

"It's a nice soundbite but what has in effect happened thereafter is the loss of these 2,500 support staff to pay for that, and that's wrong."

A spokesman for Justice Secretary Michael Matheson insisted: "Policing in Scotland is built on strong foundations and Graeme Person's attack is hypocritical given that Labour fully backed the creation of a single police force in the face of Tory cuts from Westminster.

"His claims regarding the business case for Police Scotland is also wrong - there was a full outline business case for police reform with significant stakeholder input which was published in its entirety, and which was also backed by cross-party support.

"The fundamentals of policing in Scotland are sound and under this SNP government crime has fallen to a 41-year low, supported by the 1,000 extra officers that we have delivered - in stark contrast to England and Wales, which has seen a decrease of over 15,300 officers since 2007."

Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson said: "Reform of policing was always a long-term proposition, which would not be achieved overnight.

"I believe strongly that the creation of a single service has put policing on a solid foundation for the future and has created a service which is more accountable and open to scrutiny than ever before."