Future of policing: Cabinet Secretary's statement

Statement on the future of policing in Scotland by Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans Keith Brown on Thursday 2 March 2023. 

As we approach the tenth anniversary of our national police service, I am pleased to make this statement to the Chamber with my reflections on the continuing police reform journey since 2013.  I will also offer my thoughts on Sir Iain Livingstone’s recent announcement that he intends to retire as Chief Constable of Scotland later this year.

Sir Iain will be greatly missed – of that there is no doubt.  His contribution to the success of policing in Scotland has been immense.

But he leaves Scottish policing in excellent health, with the service having been completely transformed over the last ten years. Eight local legacy forces have been replaced by one national service, providing a more strategic and consistent approach to policing than under the previous system. One of the most significant public sector reforms since devolution.

And it has been a success and one I believe that’s recognised across this chamber.  In 2019, the then Justice Committee stated its belief that the policy intention to create more equal access to national capacity had been met and should be considered a success story for policing in Scotland. That was the Criminal Justice Committee.

And that success has been demonstrated by the successful policing of COP26 in 2021, Operation Unicorn in 2022, and by the policing of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since reform in 2013, £11.6 billion has been invested in policing.  And this continues.  In the most recent budget, the Scottish Government has recognised the importance of policing by investing £1.45 billion in 2023-24.  This is an increase of 6.3% -around  £80 million – to the Scottish Police Authority resource budget and provides a stable basis from which to improve the delivery of policing and enhance the safety and security of communities across Scotland. Despite the UK government making cuts to the Scottish Government capital budget, we have maintained the police capital budget, which has more than doubled since 2017-18, supporting investment in police assets – estate, fleet, specialist equipment and ICT. And the money we put into the police continues to be invested in the workforce. Our officers are  the best paid police officers in the UK with starting salaries for constables around £5,000 more than in England and Wales. And there are more officers too – as of 30 September, there were 30 officers per 10,000 population in Scotland, compared to 24 officers in England and Wales.

And our investment has also paid dividends in terms of crime. Sir Iain has rightly highlighted Police Scotland’s murder clear-up rate as one of the strengths of the service in recent years.  I would also point to Police Scotland’s significant role in ensuring this week’s statistics show that Scotland has one of the lowest levels of recorded crime seen for any 12-month period since comparable records began in 1974. And I believe these statistics are a credit to the hard-working officers and staff of Police Scotland.  Presiding Officer, before I look to the future, it is worth reflecting on the legacy of the longest serving Chief Constable of the UK’s second biggest force. No operation was bigger than COP26 when the eyes of the world were on Glasgow.  We hosted hundreds of world leaders and dignitaries amongst thousands of delegates that descended upon the city.  Under Sir Iain’s leadership, demonstrations were policed in the traditions of Scotland’s policing, ensuring that legitimate protest could be undertaken fully and safely.  Scotland’s rights-based system of policing, coupled with Police Scotland’s engagement with activist groups and an overriding common sense approach resulted in under 100 arrests linked with the event. Staggering numbers given the scale of COP26.

More recently, the sensitive and effective operation put in place following the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is something Sir Iain can be rightly proud of.

Perhaps above all, it is Police Scotland’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has been rightly praised as officers took a measured and proportionate rights-based approach to their handling of an unprecedented crisis.  As with our health professionals, police were at the forefront in keeping us all safe and we owe them our gratitude.

I also sincerely hope the chamber will join me in paying tribute to Sir Iain’s legacy.

I was grateful to Sir Iain for his agreement to extend his contract when his initial period of appointment concluded last year.  This ensured continuity and stability as we emerged from the pandemic.  I think it has always been clear that, at some point, he would decide to step away from his role.  As he himself said last week, he will have been an officer for 31 years.  So, while last week’s news is obviously disappointing, it was not necessarily unexpected.

It will be for the SPA to conduct the process of finding his replacement, but Ministers will of course be asked to approve the appointment of his successor.

Sitting at Sir Iain’s side has been an Executive Team that is brimming with talent.  Just a few weeks ago Deputy Chief Constable Jane Connors took up post, bringing a wealth of experience with her from the Metropolitan Police.  And several new Assistant Chief Constables have also been appointed as the team continues to evolve.  Sir Iain has paid tribute to the stability and leadership of his senior team and I would also like to express my confidence in this continuity as we move towards Sir Iain’s final months in office.

Sir Iain will continue to set Police Scotland’s strategic direction.  Last week the Scottish Police Authority considered a draft revised Joint Strategy for Policing.  This builds on the principles in the existing 2020 strategy, while ensuring policing in Scotland keeps pace with the challenges and opportunities of modern society.

Presiding Officer, it is right that, ten years on, we continue to reflect on what the next steps in the reform journey should look like. In the last decade, we have seen significant changes in the profile of crime and demand, including increasing cyber crime, and greater vulnerability.

At the same time there has been an increasing focus on how police respond to important societal issues such as violence against women and girls.  We have also seen significant changes in digital technology and public expectations about how they access services, and these trends are likely to continue and accelerate.  We need to plan for the future and ensure that policing reflects these trends and changes and is able to respond to future challenges.

Our national Vision for Justice in Scotland, published last year, sets out a transformative vision of the future justice system for Scotland and Police Scotland will play a vital, key role in that. However, I recognise that the public sector faces a challenging budgetary environment, combined with the cost of living crisis and the resultant impact on communities.  Our plan for the future must therefore demonstrate efficiency and value for money, while continuing to keep the people of Scotland safe and secure.

For policing, this will mean an even greater emphasis on collaboration with other Criminal Justice agencies and in particular where possible with the other blue light services, to ensure the public receive the most effective and efficient care and protection. It will also require a relentless focus on making sure police are deployed where they add most value, and work efficiently with other agencies.

In setting the budget for the upcoming financial year, the Deputy First Minister was clear on the challenges that lie ahead and that further efficiencies and savings are still required to ensure Scotland has financially sustainable, person-centred public services.

So it will be a time for change. But also constants. As we commemorate the tenth anniversary of our national police service, and as we look forward in the coming months to welcoming a new Chief Constable of Scotland, we can be sure that the fundamental values of policing - fairness, integrity, respect and human rights - will remain.  The purpose of policing set out in the 2012 Act remains paramount – to improve the safety and wellbeing of people, places and communities in Scotland.

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