'Systemic' problems need to addressed in Police Scotland - Committee

A committee of MSPs has concluded that improvements are needed to Scotland's new police service.

It's after Police Scotland was formed by merging regional organisations, including Fife Police.

The Fire Service was also re-organised.

The review has concluded that, despite challenges, the reform has led to greater consistency of service across Scotland. This has particularly benefited victims of crimes such as domestic or sexual abuse.

Unification has also resulted in more equal access to specialist capabilities and support across both Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, two new reports from Holyrood’s Justice Committee have revealed. This has helped in areas such as more complex serious crime and extreme events.

The Committee took evidence from a range of stakeholders five years after the implementation of the Reform Act and found that while the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has achieved higher than expected savings and demonstrated good governance arrangements, a range of factors led to a more difficult transition for police services.

Poor financial management, unclear lines of responsibility and a failure to focus on the views of officers and staff in the early stages of reform lie at the root of many of the problems faced by Police Scotland.

Issues in policing identified by the Justice Committee include: forecast savings not being realised; IT problems hampering police effectiveness; and a string of well-publicised personnel problems resulting in senior management instability and concerns over a lack of clear leadership in the initial years of the reform process. 

The need for an exemption for police and fire services from the payment of VAT was an issue raised at Stage 3 consideration of the Bill, and this remains an issue of debate, including £175m which was paid to the treasury.   

Speaking as the reports were launched, Justice Committee Convener, Margaret Mitchell MSP, said:

“Our police and fire services do a vital job keeping people in Scotland safe. It is imperative that the structures and regulations underpinning these organisations work well.

“The Justice Committee has found that some of the problems it has seen can be traced back to the frameworks and relationships created by the Act itself. These are not simply ‘teething problems’ of a new service bedding in, but systematic problems that must be addressed.

“The Committee has identified a raft of necessary improvements to regulations, structures and practices. Members look forward to working closely with the Scottish Government and the organisations created by the Police and Fire Reform Act to implement changes.

“Reform of these frontline public services is one of the biggest challenges undertaken since the start of devolution in Scotland. It is in everyone’s interest that they succeed.”

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