John McCroskie Blog

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Opening the Online Door on Police Governance

I read an excellent quote the other day by an American politician who said that ’when you open the door to openness and transparency, a lot of people will follow you through.’

Since the inception of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), we have looked at a number of ways in which we could make the work of the SPA as open, transparent and accessible as possible.

One of the most encouraging outcomes of those initiatives is the number of people taking up our offer of providing live and recorded coverage of SPA public board meetings, through a livestream facility on the SPA website (www.spa.police.uk).

Over 300 people logged on to view the livestream of the most recent SPA Board meeting while it was taking place on 24 February – with a further 248 people watched a recording of the board meeting through the livestream link over the next 48 hours.

These are really encouraging figures given that, at best, less than a handful of ordinary citizens were physically attending public board meetings, regardless of whether we held them in the middle of Glasgow or in a rural town like Selkirk.

The growth in viewing figures over recent meetings is giving us a real sense of what a modern public meeting requires to offer to its observers.  They can choose to watch, live or recorded, from the comfort of their own homes or offices at a time that suits them.  They can rewind or fast forward to get to the agenda items that are most relevant to them.

When the SPA was formed late in 2012, we took a decision to spread our public board meetings out to different towns and cities across the country. Our early aim was to give different communities the physical opportunity to observe our national discussions and scrutiny, and also to use those locations to offer additional ‘meet the board’ opportunities for local people to engage directly with SPA members.

Our practical experience was that the daytime nature of both the public meeting and ‘meet the board’ opportunities meant that relatively few local representatives or members of the public were able to attend. It was great that those that did took the time, but it did lead us to question whether there might be different ways of delivering effective transparency and engagement.

In the coming year we will hold the SPA’s public board and meetings in a smaller number of locations to minimise travel and abstraction time for the majority of those routinely involved in them. And we will extend the use of the livestream facility to include more SPA committee meetings as well as full board meetings.

Of course, the SPA will still undertake face to face engagement with communities and their representatives on a cross-Scotland basis. That’s why in November we held a public evidence session in Inverness when we were considering the public impact of Police Scotland’s firearms standing authority. In the last fortnight alone, SPA members and officers have been out to meet with people in Dumfries & Galloway, Perth & Kinross, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire and Inverclyde.

We are adopting an approach based on the SPA ‘going to’ different parts of the country in ways and at times that suit local interests, rather than expecting local people to ‘come to’ our events and fit themselves around the constraints of national meetings with full agendas.

There is no doubt that people care about policing, and we welcome the renewed interest this is bringing in the governance and oversight of policing. The recorded version of our recent special board meeting on Stop and Search held on 13 February has now been accessed by over 2,000 unique viewers.

Put another way, that is far more than the public attendees at the previous 26 public board meetings combined, and an encouraging marker that in the oversight of policing in Scotland the door to openness and transparency is wide open.

John McCroskie

SPA Director of Communications and Engagement