Joint Statement from SPA Chair and Chief Constable
Advocating a return to regional forces appears to be based on the presumption that genuine local police responsiveness can only be delivered by multi-force structures. It also underestimates the fact that Scotland is a small country dealing with global and online threats that respect few borders or boundaries.
Communities and the public can and do have a pivotal influence in determining the local policing priorities specific to their own local area. The day to day activity of our local community policing teams is determined by the priorities the public tell us matter to them where they live. We know this because over 40,000 told us through our annual survey. Tackling speeding drivers, preventing violent crime and anti-social behaviour and targeting those who supply drugs are just some of those priorities set for us that affect people where they live. Delivering a policing service that is responsive to local needs is the very heart of what Police Scotland was set up to do.
In the last two years we have witnessed an end to the postcode lotteries of approach in areas like domestic abuse and child protection that existed under legacy arrangements. Police resources are being deployed to meet every day needs and demands without the bureaucracy of protracted mutual aid agreements. This could be to support a murder investigation which would have significantly impacted local community policing resources for weeks sometimes months, or for our larger-scale events such as the Commonwealth Games or the Ryder Cup. The benefits of equal access to specialist resource has ensured that the partners we work with have easier access to us as a public service with the ease of working with a single organisation rather than the 8 previous forces. We are also making unprecedented strategic investment in new and enhanced approach to prevent and investigate cyber crime.
Policing in Scotland has never been the subject of more scrutiny and that also includes scrutiny of the SPA. Previous reviews by HMICS and Audit Scotland of former governance and accountability arrangements recommended a more proactive approach was required in the areas of strategy, finance and performance. Against that baseline, and working closely together with the operational leadership team, we are confident that the SPA is demonstrating a strengthening of approach in each of those areas. Significant pieces of forward-looking work such as an estates strategy have been considered and approved by the SPA – the very kind of enhanced strategic engagement that legacy best value reports exhorted police governance bodies to get seriously involved in. Significantly, that shared strategy is founded on the principle that there is no 'one size fits all' solution for Scotland.
We are also working with our partners in scrutiny at a local level to ensure strong and effective oversight of policing at both local and national level. Local policing plans are agreed with local authorities and provide a clear direction to the public about where our activities are focused which makes it easier for them to hold us to account, whether that is through a community meeting or local authority board. We want to build on this and the arrangements in place provide a strong foundation to do that. Local policing has the potential to be more accountable to more locally elected members than ever before. In some areas, the level of accountability has tripled with Divisional Commanders held to account significantly more than ever before.
As with all public services, there are continuous challenges. Since 2013, we have already saved the equivalent of three legacy force budgets. By improving efficiencies in our management structures alone we have saved more than 50 per cent of the costs of the former police force executive structures.
In the future, working within our means will continue to present us with difficult choices however, we are committed to continuing to improve how we engage with the public and our partners and work together to achieve our shared goal of keeping people safe.
We were clear from the start that this would be a long term journey of reform and change. We are only 30 months into that and we are learning and evolving our approach all the time. All journeys have points where it looks more tempting to turn back than go on. That would risk us failing to realise many of the benefits of a single service that are as yet only partly realised. It is a temptation we should resist.
Vic Emery, Chair, Scottish Police Authority
Sir Stephen House, Chief Constable, Police Scotland