Parliamentary statement on policing: speech

Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, speaks about recent police suspensions.

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Thank you Presiding Officer. I am grateful for the opportunity to update Parliament on leadership and performance of policing.

When we created Police Scotland in 2013 we purposely strengthened the governance, accountability and scrutiny arrangements for policing and created a clear statutory framework for investigation of misconduct allegations against police officers. There is also a clear and independent process for investigating criminal allegations under the direction of the Lord Advocate.

We created the SPA and Police Investigations and Review Commissioner to provide independent investigation and decision making on misconduct matters. And HMICS provides professional and independent scrutiny of policing, with a statutory duty to support policing to deliver best value and continuous improvement.

As you know, an Assistant Chief Constable was suspended last Friday by the Scottish Police Authority. The SPA Board took this decision after the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner brought allegations to its attention. These included criminal matters which the Commissioner had been directed to investigate by the Crown Office. That criminal investigation has commenced and is ongoing.

The SPA also referred misconduct allegations about the senior officer to the PIRC and the Commissioner is now establishing whether a misconduct investigation is required.

In addition, three other officers were suspended, and two placed on restricted duties. Decisions in relation to these other officers were taken by Police Scotland in line with the relevant conduct regulations passed by Parliament.

These are live investigations and we must respect the process. Until investigations are complete, further comment on or speculation about the individual cases would not be appropriate.

I am also aware of some criticisms of the current process. There has been widespread speculation about individuals involved in cases and the nature of the allegations before the process has been concluded. I have considerable sympathy with the view that this is unhelpful. Going forward, it is important to reflect on the operation of these processes, particularly around confidentiality.

These events have caused understandable concern and I now wish to highlight the measures that are being put in place to strengthen the senior command team in Police Scotland.

Following the recent suspensions, Deputy Chief Constable Designate Iain Livingstone acted quickly to review his command structure.

In doing so, he stated his confidence in the leadership provided by Police Scotland's officers and staff, reinforcing that leadership exists across all aspects of policing – from his role as the deputy chief constable all the way through the organisation to the police constables serving their local communities. I wholeheartedly support that view.

His recommendations to strengthen Police Scotland's senior team were approved by the Scottish Police Authority Board yesterday. As a result, two officers will be promoted to temporary Assistant Chief Constable with immediate effect. Gillian MacDonald and Alan Speirs have already passed the UK-wide Strategic Command Course and are ready and fully qualified to step up.

Steps have also been taken to ensure the operation of Police Scotland's counter-terrorism and firearms units are unaffected by recent developments. Operations and training continue as normal, with experienced officers filling key roles.

Presiding Officer, some commentators have sought to use the recent events to question Police Scotland's performance. However, the evidence on this is clear:

  • the latest national statistics show that recorded crime is at a 43-year low and public confidence in the police remains strong
  • all local areas have seen a significant reduction in overall recorded crime over the longer term
  • the number of non-sexual violent crimes recorded has fallen 49% between 2006-07 and 2016-17, and remains at one of its lowest levels since 1974
  • cases of homicide have fallen by 47% in the past ten years

Looking forward, the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland have a clear strategy for the next ten years with the publication of their Policing 2026 Strategy earlier this year. This will ensure Scotland continues to benefit from a modern, responsive and sustainable police service.

Presiding Officer, I will now move on to addressing governance. And I wish to start by welcoming the appointment of Susan Deacon as the new chair of the SPA.

Susan takes up post on 4 December, bringing extensive experience of high profile roles in the public and private sectors. She will bring a new approach to the governance of policing.

Through decades of experience leading changes in public, private and academic organisations, and her years serving the democratic process of communities as both MSP and Minister, she has a track record of bringing together people and ideas in ways that lead to lasting improvement and change.

As she turns the focus of the SPA outwards, she intends to strengthen partnerships with COSLA and others, proactively involving them in improvement and change.

I also welcome the appointment of Kenneth Hogg as the Interim Chief Officer of the SPA. His background in public service reform, financial accountability and leadership will stand the SPA in good stead.

These appointments sit alongside significant improvements in SPA governance over the course of this year and the review I commissioned of the Authority's executive functions. All will support the Board to perform its role effectively.

Let me finish, Presiding Officer, by commending the tireless job police officers and staff do every day to keep Scotland safe and setting out what the Scottish Government is doing to support policing.

Andrea MacDonald from the Scottish Police Federation yesterday reinforced that "front line officers are still out there, they have been out there all weekend still doing their job, still going to the calls from the public and out there patrolling to prevent crime".

Since Friday I have met with the SPA, the Deputy Chief Constable Designate, other senior officers in the command team and HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary. The recurring theme in those conversations is one of strength and continuity in Scottish policing.

Derek Penman said earlier today "I agree with the view of the Scottish Police Federation that there is no crisis in policing…Our ongoing scrutiny of Police Scotland has consistently shown that police officers and police staff at all levels remain committed to delivering policing into our communities".

As well as the usual local policing activity we see every day in our communities, the next few days see the launch of the Drink Driving campaign and there is a very visible police presence at our Winter festivals. This morning, at the Police Scotland Violence Prevention Conference, officers from across the country came together to focus on working collaboratively to reduce crime in Scotland. In short, Presiding Officer, operational policing continues and the public can have confidence in the police service.

To support that important work, this government is committed to supporting policing, promising to protect the police resource budget in real terms in every year of this Parliament – a boost of £100 million by 2021. I also committed a further £61 million for reform this year.

We have lobbied the UK Government on VAT over the last five years. And the Chancellor's announcement that Police Scotland will be eligible to reclaim VAT from 1 April 2018 is welcome and long overdue. The benefits will flow directly to policing as VAT will be reclaimed directly from HMRC.

Presiding Officer, the creation of a single service has improved the ability of our police to respond quickly and effectively to serious crime, terrorism and other major incidents, uninhibited by previous force boundaries.

It has delivered a scale of operational flexibility and specialism that was not possible under the legacy arrangements.

And it continues to deliver an excellent local service to communities that I believe is the match of policing anywhere in the world.

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