Publication - Report

Scottish Police Authority (SPA) Executive: review

Published: 2 Mar 2018
Cabinet Secretary for Justice
Safer Communities Directorate
Part of:
Law and order

This review considers how the executive of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) can most effectively support the board to deliver its statutory functions.

43 page PDF

382.8 kB

43 page PDF

382.8 kB

Scottish Police Authority (SPA) Executive: review
Executive Summary

43 page PDF

382.8 kB

Executive Summary

1. This report is the result of a Review by Malcolm Burr, Chief Executive of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the local authority for the Western Isles, and Nicola Marchant, Deputy Chair of the SPA, requested by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in June 2017.

2. The Review has been structured around six distinct phases:

i an initial scoping and fact-finding phase, looking into the current governance landscape, SPA founding legislation, best practice from elsewhere, and exemplar organisations;
ii an evidence-gathering phase on the operation of the SPA since inception, and views on how the SPA Board can best deliver its statutory functions and stakeholder engagement with the support of the SPA Executive team through a series of engagement sessions with stakeholders;
iii a critical evaluation of the evidence, leading to identification and summary of the key issues and challenges, framed around the remit, from the stakeholder engagement;
iv the development of proposals for recommendations to address challenges and to suggest improvements;
v re-engagement with key stakeholders, to test assumptions and build consensus where possible around evaluation of evidence and proposed recommendations;
vi issuing of the final report to the Cabinet Secretary and Chair of the SPA Board.

3. We have made recommendations in the following ToR (Terms of Reference):

i How the SPA Executive and the SPA Board can best work together;
ii The SPA's engagement with its delivery partners and stakeholders, particularly in local government;
iii Organisational structures and corporate processes; and
iv Ways of Working.

4. Our recommendations reflect the suitability of the overall organisational arrangements, whereby a Non-Executive Board holds the responsibility for strategy, resources and scrutiny of an operational service. That is the model which is followed in many other areas of public life and, in respect of police services, the model which other areas and nations are adopting. It is good practice, we think, for there to be a Non-Executive Board with clear statutory responsibilities placed between the Police Service, the Parliament, and the Government.

5. Our report is very much focused on the restoration of what was, in all likelihood, intended at the time of police reform and the creation of the SPA. It recognises that the well-publicised difficulties of both the SPA and Police Scotland have not permitted either organisation to engage with its partners, and indeed the wider civic community, as much as would have been desirable. We have therefore set out a number of recommendations aimed at re-positioning and strengthening the role of the SPA by re-affirming the role it was originally intended to fulfil, in alignment with the founding legislation.

6. In terms of how the SPA Executive and the Board can work better together, we have found that although the SPA has made inroads in securing the necessary experience and skills mix for both staff and Board Members ( e.g. a skills-based Board), there are still a number of challenges to ensure that the Board remains sighted to live and up-and-coming issues against the background of a very dynamic policing landscape. The value of a skills-based Board relies on its ability to strive continually towards improvement and maintaining Board members' skills. Our recommendations in this area involve a strengthening of the Board's learning and development needs and governance processes.

7. External stakeholder engagement by the SPA is not as developed or established as it should be for an organisation of such national dimension and status, especially one which supports and scrutinises a service on which the public depends and relies. We have found that a strong focus on operational and internal matters has had the effect that the SPA has been unable, so far, to develop a more outwardly focussed approach or to reach out to partner organisations and key stakeholders. This is particularly true of the SPA's engagement with local government, and that lack thereof was reflected in the evidence that was provided to the Review. The impact of this has been that stakeholders feel that their voices have not been heard prior to Board decisions, nor are they sufficiently aware of the strategic framework and policy context in which the SPA is working. Hence, there is uncertainty as to whether or not the Board is making fully informed decisions. We have therefore set out a number of recommendations around the need for a refresh of the SPA's stakeholder engagement strategy and a more formalised and transparent approach to engagement opportunities and channels of communications with key stakeholders.

8. When evaluating possible future requirements for staff and operating structures, we believe it is essential to start at the top, with the role of the Chief Executive Officer ( CEO)/Accountable Officer ( AO). A principal accountability of the CEO should be the provision of best advice to the Board, enabling it to make informed decisions, and hence, it is essential that the CEO has the time and support to devote him/herself to this key role. We have therefore made recommendations regarding this essential and business-critical role.

9. As regards to staffing and operating structures, we have acknowledged that both the SPA and Police Scotland were established out of the eight former Police Forces and Joint Boards at some speed, and that certain key skills, particularly in the areas of advice to and administration of the Joint Boards, were not available to the SPA at the onset, since these posts largely remained within local government. We have therefore concluded that improvements should be made to the SPA Executive's understanding of the strategic context in which the Board operates and its ability to provide appropriate support.

10. The recommendations in this area make specific provision for the organisational structures within the SPA, and the processes which the SPA, Police Scotland, and others as appropriate, will require to adopt to ensure that the SPA is best placed to carry out its statutory functions. This will ensure that there is, above all, clarity between and among organisations in providing and supporting a sustainable Police Service and Forensics Service for Scotland. To make this approach fully effective, there also needs to be more formal reporting lines from a limited number of Police Scotland staff within the single Corporate Services function to the Interim Chief Officer, and eventually the CEO, of the SPA.

11. As regards to ways of working, the key issue is that the SPA Executive does not currently have end-to-end processes or standard operating procedures informing its flow of information and data to/from other delivery partners, such as Police Scotland. This has had a knock-on effect on its deliverables and outputs. We feel that the SPA Executive would benefit from more efficient and effective processes, properly mapped out and agreed with Police Scotland, to improve the support to the Board. Our recommendations in this area are around business tools and a much more collaborative approach to the identification of operational challenges and possible solutions by working with partners. Key to improvements in this area will be drawn from best practice and lessons learned in other exemplar organisations.

12. The report identifies 17 recommendations in total. A complete list is provided later in the report. In deriving these recommendations, we have also taken into account developments in other areas such as the Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary ( HMICS) thematic inspection and the recent section 22 Audit Scotland report. These recommendations will need to be developed further by the Chair and Interim Chief Officer followed by rapid implementation. We have also suggested that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary would be well placed to consider the delivery of the outcomes highlighted in our report as part of their ongoing support of the wider improvement journey that SPA is continuing to make We are also open to undertaking an overview of progress made in 12 months' time.

Key Themes from the Review Process

13. We held semi-structured interviews with stakeholders over the engagement and validation phases of the Review around a set of open questions:-

  • What worked well
  • What did not work so well
  • Next steps: pointers, suggestions, and possible solutions.

14. This thematic analysis helped us to organise the emerging findings and bring together and integrate these into the multiple strands and Terms of Reference of the Review. More details on the Review process and methodology can be found in Chapter 1C of this report.

15. Through this approach a number of common themes and sub-categories of themes have emerged. These are outlined as follows:-

  • SPA model;
    • Still a valid governance and scrutiny model;
    • Challenges from legacy issues such as police reform and the merging and transfer of some functions and staff into new organisations;
    • Need for a change of organisational focus from service delivery to strategic leadership, stakeholder engagement and enabling;
    • A refocus on the role of the SPA in the public sector landscape and wider civic society within Scotland;
    • Need to bench mark and compare against other sector leading and exemplar organisations;
    • Future review of some aspects of the founding legislation would be beneficial in the light of the significant change to policing structures and governance since 2013.
  • Scrutiny and accountability of policing
    • Need to foster a new culture of collaboration and information sharing;
    • Focus on shared agendas for joint outcomes with delivery partners and stakeholders;
    • Collegiality in decision-making and responsibility whilst ensuring individual organisational accountability and improved information flow between SPA and Police Scotland;
    • Re-engagement with communities, particularly local authorities and local scrutiny bodies;
    • Functional and informal reporting alongside more formal accountability between the SPA and Police Scotland, as a new working culture develops.
  • Leadership
    • Need to secure solid sound leadership and improved management skills allowing discretion and judgement to support current organisational requirements;
    • Ability to see the "bigger picture", anticipate, prepare for and de-clutter a complex landscape;
    • Visibility across a wide spectrum of delivery partners, stakeholders and the public at large;
    • Networking and support from peers and leaders' groups.
  • Capabilities and staffing
    • Need quickly to enhance internal capabilities and skills in both SPA and Police Scotland;
    • Greater clarity around individual roles, responsibility and expectations;
    • Refresh office/organisational culture;
    • Embrace an outcome based approach, jointly agreed and supported.

List of Recommendations

SPA Executive and the Board: Working Together

Recommendation 1

The Chief Executive Officer ( CEO) will be recognised as undertaking the most important role in the management of the organisation and will be key to the successful repositioning and strengthening of the SPA by re-affirming the role it was originally intended to have. The CEO should be afforded the required latitude of scope and support from the SPA Executive to be able to operate at the expected strategic level and re-engage the organisation with key delivery partners and networks.

Recommendation 2

By communicating the strategy and vision for the SPA, the CEO should set the strategic direction for the senior management team, which in turn will set it for the rest of the SPA Executive. With clear directions that everyone understands, the SPA Executive should put in place the necessary support processes for the Board, including effective and efficient working practices informed by best practice from exemplar organisations.

Recommendation 3

Senior management in Police Scotland with responsibility for assisting the SPA in discharging its statutory duties to ensure that the police and forensic service is maintained, resourced, and scrutinised effectively should report in respect of these responsibilities to the SPA CEO/Accountable Officer. These Police Scotland employees should have this reporting requirement reflected in their employment contracts, job objectives, and performance reviews, while continuing to report to the Chief Constable on all other matters.

Recommendation 4

The SPA Executive should develop (or refresh as the case may be) its guide/template for supporting papers for agenda items to be considered at SPA Board meetings. This should draw from best practice and experience of other organisations, where available, and detail the general principles which should inform the production/drafting of the papers and structure of the supporting papers.

Recommendation 5

The SPA Executive should develop jointly with Police Scotland and the Forensic Services new and refreshed induction programmes for Board Members, including an on going Learning and Development Programme ( e.g. CPD type activities) for Board Members, to take account of the dynamic nature of policing. This should include specific and targeted briefings on up-and-coming or live issues, as well as the opportunity to take stock of wider policy developments, such as "strategy days" and workshops.


  • The CEO is recognised and acknowledged as the adviser to the Board and the point of contact with the Forensic Services and Police Scotland;
  • The CEO provides assurance to the Board regarding accountabilities as the AO;
  • The SPA Executive Staff, through the leadership of the SPA Senior Management Team, will have the necessary autonomy and authority enabling them to support the CEO and Board in the delivery of their statutory duties;
  • There is a regular communication between the Chair and the CEO which is focused on developing the Board agenda and ensuring the Board's expectations are clearly understood and delivered.

Stakeholder Engagement

Recommendation 6

SPA to refresh its stakeholder engagement and communication strategy with the aim of reaching out not only to delivery partners, but also a wider section of Scottish civic life and the public at large. This is to include a mapping exercise of key delivery partners and stakeholders.

Recommendation 7

SPA to refresh and re-establish channels of communications at senior and strategic level with other key organisations, and especially local authorities, Police Scotland, staff associations and unions.

Recommendation 8

SPA to formalise and publicise a programme of engagement opportunities through an engagement planner to feature on its website. This should include harmonising and coordinating stakeholder contact events with other key delivery partners, such as local authorities and Police Scotland, and seeking to harness synergies by sharing platforms and engagement opportunities made available by other partners.

Recommendation 9

SPA to ensure that Committees have routes into engagement and communication channels so that as Board papers are developed the voice of the stakeholder is heard and considered prior to Board decisions being made.

Recommendation 10

SPA to consider in discussion with key delivery partners the need to reconvene the Joint Liaison Committees, comprising the SPA, Police Scotland, and staff associations, as well as the setting up of a Local Government Liaison Group consisting of SPA Board Members and members of COSLA's Political Management Team, indicatively meeting twice a year. This approach will provide a forum for strategic engagement on Scotland-wide strategic policing issues.


  • The Board will be publicly recognised and acknowledged as discharging its statutory functions by proactive engagement strategies, developed by the SPA Chair and CEO, that leverages network and stakeholder resources to access wider insights and knowledge;
  • Critical stakeholders and partners will understand and have clarity on processes for providing insight and information to enable the Board to make informed decisions.

Staffing and Operating Structures

Recommendation 11

To ensure that the SPA CEO/ AO combined role has sufficient support to enable the primary role of the CEO, to advise and support the Board and manage strategic relationships with key stakeholders to include Police Scotland, Forensic Services, and local authorities, to be discharged and not unduly detracted from by performance of the AO function. The AO's primary role is clearly defined in The Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000 ( PFA Act), and should be primarily in relation to SPA finance. The CEO will require appropriate professional support to discharge the AO function without detriment to the CEO role detailed above.

Recommendation 12

The SPA Executive should have 3 main units:

  • CEO/ AO Support;
  • Board Communications & Insights;
  • ßBoard Services.

Recommendation 13

On an indicative basis, it is recommended that the proposed business areas have the following key features:

  • Redefine the role of the CEO/ AO as a priority;
  • CEO/ AO Support – Within the SPA CEO/ AO's office, there should be the required experience and skills set to support discharge of the role and the responsibilities associated with the SPA being the employer of staff, and duties associated with Police Scotland's Senior Officers, including appointments and pay, complaints handling, and independent custody visits. The skills set required to support this approach, and the bolstering of the capacity and capabilities available to the SPA leadership team, should feature highly developed management skills, strategic thinking, and strong judgment. This area should also include, amongst other things, more specialist and professional skills such as legal advice and HR. In addition, it is assumed that the CEO/ AO themselves will have strong financial and business knowledge;
  • Engagement and communication, including insights – Key deliverables of this team should include: provision of information and intelligence to ensure that the SPA can consider properly researched information and high-quality reports in order to make informed decisions; development and review of strategy; produce SPA Annual Reports; partner with Police Scotland and Forensics Services to agree performance indicators and targets; oversee stakeholder engagement of the SPA (including Parliamentary committees); produce briefing papers; and manage the website and all internal and external communications. To deliver this approach, there needs to be research capacity and capabilities within the Executive to construct concise reports and/or have access to analytical resources including a horizon scanning and anticipatory function as appropriate. There should also be strong media, including social media and communication skills;
  • Board Services Unit – This Team should provide high quality secretariat and coordination services to the Board ensuring the availability of high quality Board papers; support the CEO and Chair in agreeing the Board agendas; support Committees Chairs in the development of efficient and effective work plans; and provide secretarial support to Committees, the Board and its Members.


  • The SPA Executive will have a staff structure with the right skills mix and experience resulting in an engaged workforce;
  • The SPA Board will be recognised and acknowledged as providing effective scrutiny of Police Scotland and holding the Chief Constable to account for the delivery of Policing in Scotland;
  • The CEO will have the capacity and support from the SPA Board and Executive, Police Scotland, and other stakeholders, to discharge the key elements of their role and function;
  • There will be appropriate arrangements within the SPA to enable the CEO to discharge the AO function, without detriment to their principal role.

Ways of Working

Recommendation 14

SPA to hold, jointly with Police Scotland, a facilitated staff event/workshop with the aim to identifying challenges and opportunities in their respective business processes and working practices.

Recommendation 15

SPA to review its business processes and working practices, and working jointly with Police Scotland, develop collaboratively effective and efficient end-to-end processes, as well as identifying business solutions, which will enable the SPA to fulfil its scrutiny role and hold Police Scotland to account, as required. These processes and practices should be agreed formally, within a Minute of Agreement or equivalent, so that there can be clarity between the SPA and Police Scotland as to requirements and expectations, and to complement the formal accountability of Police Scotland employees noted in Recommendation 3 .

Recommendation 16

SPA to identify and apply best practice in its business processes and working practices, drawing from other exemplar organisations with a national dimension and public remit, to ensure that the place of the SPA within civic Scotland is restored and secured.

Recommendation 17

SPA to develop and articulate in a transparent and open way its policy about public Board papers and/or meetings, supported by robust administrative processes, reflecting practice elsewhere in the public sector. With the exception of sensitive and personnel matters, it should be a matter of principle that meetings concerning policing policy and progress towards national outcomes should be held in public.


  • Board and Committee papers will be concise and contain required information to enable an informed decision to be made, in public wherever possible;
  • The Board and Committees will have access to a broader set of information to enable critical evaluation of proposals from Police Scotland and Forensic Services, ensuring their decisions are informed and evidence based.