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Reforms risk Police Scotland's independence, former auditor warns

Attempts to change oversight of Scotland’s police force would put the independence of its Chief Constable at risk, the former spending watchdog has warned. His official report for the Scottish government said making the chief accountable to politicians was a step too far.

The report by former Auditor General for Scotland, Robert Black, for the Scottish Government warned making Police Scotland report to Parliament rather than the Scottish Police Authority would be a mistake.

He warned there would be “a significant risk of compromising the operational independence of the chief constable”.

Mr Black was tasked by the Scottish Government to respond to the HMICS Thematic Inspection of the Scottish Police Authority's recommendation to review the roles of its Chair and members in executive work.

There was a concern about whether its board members had become involved in operational management which should be the responsibility of the executive team of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).

The HMICS Thematic Inspection of the SPA published 26 September 2019 sought to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of the Scottish Police Authority in terms of fulfilling both its core role and its statutory obligations under the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 and as a public body.

Whilst the inspection report’s key findings recognised the knowledge and expertise brought by the range of professional backgrounds represented on the Authority’s Board, it also stated that many of the members, including the Chairing Member were acting out-with their non-executive role.

Mr Black concluded that the current arrangements were helping to deliver improvements to policing after years of instability.

He said: "There could be a significant risk of compromising the operational independence of the Chief Constable and it would involve replacing the 2012 Act by new legislation, embedded in which would be a very different role and more constrained role for the SPA and for the Members of the Authority.”

But he did warn that the board is not diverse enough, that it was too Edinburgh-centric and that it needed a strong clerking function.

He concluded: “The Chief Constable has built a strong and very capable senior leadership team and the SPA has a strong Board populated with people with the right range of skills and experience to improve the board’s effectiveness, supported by a recently appointed Chief Executive who is held in high regard.”

The Scottish government responded: “We recognise that the board should be as representative of Scotland’s population as possible and with the new recruitment round that is about to commence we hope that this will be addressed.”

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