SPA Chair talks about effectively governing policing

Published

SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan sets out his views on police governance.

Two weeks ago, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) and Police Scotland launched Policing 2026 – a draft strategy setting out a vision and direction for how policing in Scotland will evolve and address the changing demands over the next decade.

Publication of this document for a 10-week period of public consultation, follows an intense piece of work to establish and understand existing, underlying and predicted demand for policing services in what is now a rapidly changing world. 

Four years after the establishment of a single police service, publication of Policing 2026 marks a pivotal point in the reform journey. It outlines clearly how policing will transform to create an organisation that supports and adds value to the mission of protecting and serving the public.

The approach undertaken to develop this draft strategy in collaboration with partners and now inviting the public to have their say on the direction proposed is a significant one. 

Consulting on the future direction of policing, provides a very sharp contrast with previous perceptions of how, since its inception, the single service engages with the communities it serves.

Where red lines were drawn around operational independence and controversy flared over armed officers and stop and search, we now see a service recognising up front that engagement and listening are essential. Effective policing can only be achieved through the consent and the goodwill of the public.

In the SPA, we have just created a dedicated policing committee that will ensure changes and new ideas in policing which could impact on that consent are identified and addressed before mis-steps happen.
When I took up post 18 months ago, there was great unease about the engagement between the national service and local communities. Police Scotland have embraced that challenge. We have recently been engaging with local councillors from across Scotland and their feedback confirms a significant and positive shift in that view.

Police Scotland understands that all its services, from community work through road traffic to serious crime, are ultimately delivered locally - whether it’s by your local police officer or specialist teams. Where they can be, they should be organised locally. Where it’s better to have national services, they must be locally sensitive. The SPA has clarified its role, so we are holding the service to account for local engagement, not acting as a go-between.
Relationships between governance and operational policing are now stronger. There is more openness, better flows of information, and I have more confidence that when issues arise they are escalated from Police Scotland to the SPA quickly and effectively.

Where before there was little clarity on when and how the SPA could intervene on financial matters within Police Scotland, we now have agreed protocols in place and have streamlined the organisation of finance to strengthen oversight.

The SPA has also enhanced its governance of a number of key programmes. In its January report to Parliament, HMICS described the SPA governance on call handling modernisation as ‘significantly improved’.

The board of the SPA has changed too. We will shortly welcome four new members bringing experience in areas like technology, audit and human rights to a board already strengthened in finance, HR and policing.

The Policing 2026 strategy, once finalised in the summer, will provide clear direction on the long-term outcomes that the Chief Constable is responsible for delivering. A performance framework is being developed alongside this, to ensure the service’s progress can be regularly and publicly scrutinised. This will bring much-needed definition to just what the SPA is holding the Chief Constable to account for, and how well we are doing that job.

As we progress towards achieving strategic and financial sustainability by 2020, our proposal is to put key workforce decisions into the hands of the Chief Constable, tying responsibility to the delivery of key performance goals. This, rightly, will place the SPA even more firmly in the spotlight on accountability.

The final piece of the jigsaw is transparency.

We have put in place an approach that will see more public meetings of the SPA – 8 this year compared with 6 last. It will be the board as a whole that will make its decisions, in public rather than delegated to a small group of members in committees barely anyone notices.

But we are also alive to unintended consequences around the decision to make our committees private not public, and discursive not decision-making. As part of our continuous review of governance arrangements we will return to debate this further at our next board meeting, later in March.

The SPA is changing and we are building the governance skills, practice, and relationships to make the SPA a visible and effective part of Scottish public life. It is a challenge I welcome and embrace.

Andrew Flanagan
Chair, Scottish Police Authority