Scottish Police Federation conference: Justice Secretary's speech

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson addresses the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) conference 2017.

Madam Chair, thank you for your introduction and for inviting me to address your conference.

First, may I congratulate you on your recent election as Chair of the Federation.

I was grateful for the open and honest relationship I shared with your predecessor, Brian Docherty, and look forward to continuing to work with you and your colleagues in a similar vein.

Westminster attack

The tragic events in London this time last week have reminded us all of the risks that police officers – and other blue light responders – face every day in keeping our communities safe.

It is a natural human instinct to run away from danger but – as everyone in this room knows all too well – police officers instinctively run towards it, often risking their lives to protect others.

Last Wednesday, PC Keith Palmer did just that.

He put himself in harm's way and, ultimately, sacrificed his life in doing so.

His bravery is an inspiration to us all.

My thoughts, and those of my Ministerial and Parliamentary colleagues, are with the family, friends and colleagues of PC Keith Palmer at this most difficult time.

Armed policing

The events in London have sparked discussion about the arming of police officers in Scotland.

The deployment of armed police is rightly an operational decision for the Chief Constable, taking account of a range of factors including intelligence reports and threat and risk assessments.

After the attacks on Paris and Brussels, the Chief Constable made the decision last year to increase the number of armed officers to help maintain safety and security in our communities in Scotland. That was a decision that was fully backed by the Scottish Government.

The proportion of Police Scotland officers having standing firearms authority to carry a weapon has increased over the last nine months, but still represents a small percentage of our officers.

The vast majority of Scotland's police officers are not routinely armed, and that is a situation and tradition that has longstanding public and Parliamentary support.

While there is no intelligence of any increased threat or risk to Scotland, it is right that Police Scotland keeps the standing authority to carry firearms under review, taking into account the threat level.

It is so important that we have a robust level of scrutiny and oversight of this process by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), and ensure that these decisions are appropriate and proportionate.

The public want to know that Police Scotland has an appropriate armed policing capability – not necessarily an armed police service.

In my view, we have that balance right.

Terms and conditions

Madam Chair, you raised a number of other issues in your address and I will try to respond to as many as I can.

The office of constable is pivotal to the policing of Scotland. Each sworn constable is an independent legal official and each police officer has personal liability for their actions or inaction.

Although this means you can't be made redundant, I know that it also brings restrictions on your private lives and means that you can't withdraw your labour.

That is just one reason why the relationship between Government and the police service should be based on mutual trust and respect.

But I believe that many of the recent changes to policing in England and Wales have undermined that unwritten contract beyond repair.

The introduction of voluntary severance for police officers south of the border is not just wrong and demoralising – in my view it will gradually weaken the office of constable.

Let me assure you that this Government will not introduce voluntary severance for police officers in Scotland.

You will also be aware that the UK Government has also introduced direct entry schemes at the rank of Inspector and Superintendent.

There is a school of thought that such an approach breathes new life into the police and provides a fresh perspective, and that may be true. However, there is something bigger at stake here and it is my view that, in order to lead – and to command officers under your control – a police officer must first have walked in their boots.

You cannot put a price on that lived experience.

For that reason, I can confirm today that this Government will not allow direct entry into policing in Scotland.

The College of Policing also recently announced that all new entrants to forces in England and Wales will need to obtain a degree-level qualification, either prior to entry or through a three-year police constable degree apprenticeship.

There are some who view this as an opportunity to modernise and professionalise policing.

My view is that, while graduates may have a great deal to offer the police service, a university qualification should not be a pre-requisite for joining – although it may be one of a number of routes of entry.

The fundamentals of policing have not changed. Above all else, police officers need communication and people skills, common sense and a dedication to serve the public.

Although many recruits will already have degrees, this does not automatically give them the skills needed to police our streets.

I expect Police Scotland to continue to modernise and evolve its recruitment processes to ensure that it is open and accessible to all of the diverse communities it serves.

Another major change to policing in England and Wales was the removal of collective pay bargaining. That has not – and will not – happen in Scotland.

I will continue to look to the Police Negotiating Board (PNB) to reach agreements on your terms and conditions.

This Government is committed to introducing binding arbitration on pay and we have legislated to create a new collective bargaining mechanism – the Police Negotiating Board for Scotland.

Police Federation members on the staff side of the PNB have been – and will remain to be – closely consulted on the development of the secondary legislation required to implement that new body.

The Chair raised the issue of last year's pay claim. I can assure you that I do not want to see a repeat of the situation that took place this year.

The SPA has clarity about their budget for the next financial year and are able to plan on that basis.

I have also written to the Independent Chair of the PNB to ask him to ensure that early discussion takes place between the sides on pay negotiations for 2017.

This Government has always been clear that there will be no Winsor package in Scotland.

However, I would encourage both sides of the PNB to engage in meaningful discussions about how police officer terms and conditions can be modernised to reflect the transformational change that will take place under the 'Policing 2026' strategy over the next 10 years.

In stark contrast to England and Wales, I believe that both sides of the PNB in Scotland have a will to work together collaboratively to ensure a flexible and agile workforce fit for the future, and that your terms and conditions are a fair reflection of the job that you do.

But I am clear that any change must be agreed – not imposed.


Turning to pensions, I know that some of your members are concerned about the new pension scheme.

I echo Andrea's sentiment that it remains great value when looked at in comparison to other schemes.

It also provides vital protections for officers and their families and I urge the service and the staff associations to continue highlighting the benefits to every officer.

To help officers understand what the new scheme will mean for them in the future, the Scottish Public Pensions Agency has commissioned the scheme actuary to produce a specialised pension calculator.

This is intended to give individuals a clearer idea of the value of the scheme and is being developed in consultation with the police pension board, which has senior Scottish Police Federation (SPF) representation on it.

The Scottish Public Pensions Agency is working to make this calculator available to all officers before the summer.

Reform / transition

I would now like to turn to the transformation of policing in Scotland. I am certain that reform in 2013 was the right thing to do.

It has allowed us to strengthen specialist, national capabilities, realise efficiencies and improve outcomes in ways that would not have otherwise been possible.

While challenging at times, this approach ensured the operational effectiveness of Police Scotland in its early years, while also setting the foundations for future transformation.

Police priorities

As part of our Programme for Government, we updated a key part of the policy framework for policing, with the publication of refreshed Strategic Police Priorities in October last year.

These mirror the expectations and aspirations we have set out for many of our other public services – namely the need to be able to adapt to the changing nature of our society and to be accountable for the actions we take.

In a policing context, this is about ensuring that, where a response is required from the police, that response is an effective one.

The priorities also recognise that equally as important is the need to work with partners to prevent the requirement for such a response wherever possible, and to place communities at the heart of policing.

I believe that the 'Policing 2026' Strategy, published for consultation just last month, will help the service to do just that.

'2026' consultation

The consultation provides an important opportunity for people to provide their views on the approach outlined in the strategy.

Of course I expect the service to ensure that officers and staff are given the time to read and respond to the consultation.

I can assure you that my ministerial colleagues and I will give careful consideration to the views expressed before reaching a final view in relation to the proposals which have been put forward.

I am clear that the strategy provides Police Scotland and the SPA with a distinct focus on improving the quality of service received by the public – and I know that also reflects the values and commitment of your members.

This is the issue on which Ministers, the Parliament and of course the public should ultimately hold policing to account.

Once finalised, the '2026' strategy will set the direction for policing over the coming decade, ensuring the service is sustainable, operationally effective and reflective of the changing nature of crime and of our society as a whole.

Mental health

One of the most notable changes in recent years is the increasing amount of time that the police spend responding to calls about people who may be suffering from mental ill health.

I recognise that, in order to truly transform policing in Scotland, much closer collaboration with public sector partners will be needed to help address often complex issues such as these.

That is why the First Minister has recently announced that the Scottish Government is investing £35 million over five years to support the employment of 800 additional mental health workers, giving access to dedicated mental health professionals:

  • in our A&E departments, 24 hours a day,
  • in our GP practices,
  • in our prisons, and also
  • in our police service in Scotland.

I believe this will be a significant step forward in helping to reduce the demand the police is facing.

Workforce balance

Also key to managing demand is ensuring that the police have an appropriately balanced workforce – the right people, with the right skills, in the right place.

And I am clear that the Chief Constable needs to have the flexibility to determine what that looks like.

The Chief Constable has already made clear that he wants as many officers as possible on the streets in an operational role, supported by expert police staff in areas such as cyber crime and counter-fraud, as well as the transformation of corporate services.

However, I understand that a major change programme such as '2026' may create uncertainty for your members about what it will mean for them, their roles and the people they serve.

Let me be clear: enhancing local policing must be at the core of any future approach – and as part of this, I fully expect police officer recruitment to continue, to ensure we have enough officers to meet the needs of communities across the country.

I welcome the fact that, for the period 2017 to 2018, Police Scotland has made a commitment to maintain officer numbers at their current levels.

And Ministers will only approve the final strategy when we see a clear plan that allows for the reform of back-office functions and productivity gains to be realised.

Key to achieving this will be appropriate investment in new, innovative IT systems and the empowerment and development of the workforce.

The '2026' strategy also recognises the need to change how the service recruits, develops and retains its people, including a greater emphasis on flexible working.

The ambition is for Police Scotland to be an employer of choice, truly representative of – and attractive to – the diverse communities which it serves.

I welcome that approach.


Madam Chair – you also mentioned that you do not want to see probationer training diluted.

The training of police officers in Scotland is second to none, and any future changes must demonstrate how they will strengthen and improve the quality of that training.

While such decisions are largely an operational matter for the Chief Constable, I do expect the staff associations and other stakeholders to be consulted on any proposals through the Scottish Police Consultative Forum. I will take a close interest in these matters going forward.


I welcome the commitment of Police Scotland and the SPA to engage with staff associations, Trade Unions and the diversity associations as the transformation of Police Scotland under '2026' begins to take shape.

Indeed, I expect the workforce to have the opportunity to help shape and influence what that change looks like, and to contribute to the development of specific implementation plans.

The better this collaboration, the better the outcomes will be for all.

I also recognise that this is your job, looking after the efficiency and wellbeing of your members, and that this can sometimes mean challenging the service and the SPA on a wide range of issues that affect the Federated ranks.

I am encouraged that the SPA and Police Scotland are jointly establishing a Strategic Engagement Forum to allow the staff associations to engage with their senior officers and staff, to discuss the strategic direction of the service.

Madam Chair, I look forward to hearing from you about how this progresses in moving forward.

Interim survey

I hope that this strategic forum, together with the other mechanisms you have for engagement with the service and SPA, will provide the opportunities you need to discuss the day-to-day issues of most concern to your members.

There is little doubt the results of the recent interim staff survey demonstrate that significant issues remain.

I expect Police Scotland to take swift, tangible action to address those and to engage with you meaningfully about how best to do that.

Workforce wellbeing

In this context, the wellbeing and work/life balance of your members is of paramount importance. It is also pivotal to the successful delivery of the '2026' strategy.

I know that this is a priority for the Chief Constable and I am encouraged that the wellbeing strategy piloted in Q division, and the annual leave pilot from E division, will soon be rolled out across the service.

I hope these actions will begin to make a tangible difference to your members. The SPA has a key role in the governance of this and of course in holding Police Scotland to account.


On the matter of governance, Madam Chair, you also spoke about representation on the SPA board.

As a government we are very conscious of the importance of transparency and effective challenge in the operation of public bodies in Scotland.

We recently appointed four new members to the SPA board with specific expertise in IT, cyber security, public sector accounting and human rights.

The new board members are joining at a key point for Scottish policing and I am confident that their broad experience will strengthen and extend the range of skills which we have on the SPA.

This will add real value as we seek to finalise and then implement the '2026' strategy.

However, I am always open to ideas about how existing governance arrangements can be improved, and very much welcome your proposal to have board members specifically representing local government, staff associations and the public.

The Police and Fire Reform Act already provides for board members to be appointed who have the skills and expertise relevant to the functions of the Authority, so further broadening that range in the way that you suggest is something that can certainly be looked at in the future.

I can also confirm I will take forward your request for a liaison committee to be established and meet on a quarterly basis.

I have also asked the Chair of the SPA to keep the operation of the new SPA governance arrangements under review, and I know that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) will look closely at this in the planned inspection of the SPA later in the year.


Madam Chair, let me conclude on the issue of funding. I recognise the Federation concerns about funding in Scotland. Like all other parts of our public sector, budgets are under pressure. I would prefer that not to be the case. However, we have made a significant commitment to the funding of Police Scotland.

We are protecting the police resource budget in real terms in every year of this Parliament – a boost of £100 million by 2021, and we have provided a total of £61 million of reform funding in 2017 and 2018. The only other of the public sector that had protection of that nature is the NHS.

Of course it is for the SPA and Police Scotland to allocate and manage their annual budget according to local and national needs and priorities, but I expect to see reform funding being invested in resources that will benefit officers and staff in operational policing.

It is the combination of this additional Scottish Government investment and the 'Policing 2026' strategy which sets the service on a course to achieve sustainability.

I have no doubt that achieving a steady state position will have a positive impact on both the health and wellbeing of your members and on the service delivered to the people of Scotland.


Madam Chair, I recognise the sacrifices that police officers make on a daily basis to provide an already excellent service and I am grateful for your members' continued professionalism and commitment.

This is an important time for all those involved in the delivery of policing in Scotland as we work towards safeguarding, strengthening and building upon the world class service you and your colleagues deliver in our communities.

Each and every one of you play a pivotal role in the success of Scottish policing, and I look forward to a continued close working relationship with the Scottish Police Federation. Madam Chair, thank you for your attention this morning and I am happy to take questions.


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