Scottish Policing Governance Roundtable meeting: 12 November 2020

Meeting note and workplan of the Scottish Policing Governance Roundtable meeting held on 12 November 2020.

Attendees and apologies


  • Humza Yousaf, Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Chair)
  • David Crichton, Vice Chair, SPA
  • Lynn Brown, Interim Chief Executive, SPA
  • Iain Livingstone, Chief Constable
  • DCC Fiona Taylor, Police Scotland
  • Fraser McKinlay, Director of Performance Audit and Best Value, Audit Scotland
  • Gill Imery, HMICS
  • Michelle Macleod, PIRC
  • Paul Johnston, Director General, Education, Communities and Justice
  • Clare Hicks, Deputy Director Police Division
  • Murray McVicar and Laura Stewart Police Division (note)

Items and actions


1. The Cabinet Secretary welcomed partners to the second meeting of the Policing Governance Roundtable.

2. He reflected on the very different context in which the group was meeting compared with its first discussion in March.  He made clear his view that the COVID pandemic had tested the system and that it had withstood this pressures.  This is evidenced by the success of policing during the pandemic, and the scrutiny that has overseen this.  He repeated his view, reached by consensus at the last Roundtable, that the system does not require an existentialist review.  He acknowledged that are still issues to explore and address and that progress had been made in doing so - the Roundtable provides a helpful mechanism for supporting this.  He noted that not all observers agree, and that the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee of the Parliament (PAPLS) has called for a fuller review.  He noted the independent work of Robert Black, the former Auditor General, and the recent communication between the Auditor General and the Acting Convener of PAPLS.

3. He also noted the publication of the report by Dame Elish Angiolini, which is a very important and significant piece of work that all partners will need to consider in depth, before reconvening in an appropriate forum to discuss further.


4. The Group considered a draft remit for the work of the Roundtable.  There was general consensus that the text as presented captured the main role of the group, namely to provide a forum to discuss continuous improvement in the system and to consider collective and individual actions where necessary.  There was a suggestion that there should be a context-setting sentence to help explain the purpose of the group to those outside the system and to reflect the point that the work of the group, collectively and individually, addresses the requests for a full review.

5. It was agreed that the remit should recognise that that the work of the group may be time limited, perhaps for one further year only, to recognise an end point once issues have been resolved and to avoid creating unnecessary complexity in the landscape.  Membership was also discussed, and can be kept under review, recognising the need to retain focus and avoid duplication.

6. CSJ thanked colleagues for their comments, and would reflect before coming back with a further draft, noting that the group might also provide an important place to consider any future potential issues.

Action: Officials to circulate a revised text to accommodate comments, for agreement by correspondence.

Reflections by Roundtable members

7. CSJ invited members to offer their reflections on the progress since the first meeting in March hand to offer any updates on activity they wished to highlight to the group.

8. Fraser McKinlay, Director of Performance Audit and Best Value, Audit Scotland:

Mr McKinley provided an update on the Section 22 report on the SPA 2019-20 Audit which is due to be published in December.  It notes the continued improvement since last year, and indicated that the report would concentrate on financial sustainability, and workforce planning.  He noted the request to the Auditor General by the Acting Convener of PAPLS for an examination of the whole system of policing governance and accountability arrangements.  Given the wider challenges faced by the SPA and Police Scotland, and recognising the ongoing discussions on policing governance, the Auditor General wrote to the Committee in October, saying that he does not intend to undertake a review of the whole system of policing governance and accountability arrangements at this time. .

9. Gill Imery, HMICS

Ms Imery reported that she has observed good tangible improvements in the working of the system since the HMICS Thematic report on SPA was published in September 2019.  This has been largely driven by the leadership of the Vice Chair and the Interim CEO of SPA.  The pandemic has demonstrated that the system is working well, and that existing structures had been deployed to ensure the governance and accountability of the police at this time.  There has been greatly enhanced communications between SPA and HMICS.  She noted that three of the HMICS recommendations have been closed, with much discussion about addressing the remainder.

The organisational restructure of SPA has been a large piece of work which will, when populated, address many of the capacity issues that have faced SPA.  She argued that the HMICS Thematic review of 2019 is one reason why a fundamental review is not necessary.  Addressing the recommendations in the HMICS report will deal with many of the issues that have been raised.

10. David Crichton, Vice Chair, SPA

Mr Crichton stated that that the national context has changed since the first meeting of the Roundtable on 11 March.  That discussion followed the HMICS report, the resignation of the former Chair, the publication of the Audit Scotland Section 22 report of December 2019, and subsequent evidence sessions of PAPLS.  COVID has necessarily shifted the focus to the delivery of policing and all parts of the system have performed exceptionally well in this context and have provided the governance and assurance.

Mr Crichton reported great progress by SPA towards enhanced stability, confidence and competence in the last 12 months.  Relations with all parts of the system have been improved.  The organisation now has the necessary elements in place: a corporate strategy, underpinned by a business plan, a risk strategy and an enhanced organisational structure.

The system is still not perfect.  Mr Crichton argued that any system of governance with multiple players will have rubbing points - it would be surprising if it did not.  He was clear that there would need to be a compelling case for a broader review and the costs associated of it, when the system is working well.  

11.  Iain Livingstone, Chief Constable

Mr Livingstone endorsed the comments made by colleagues.  All recognise that the Police Service of Scotland must be held to account and provide the service to the public.  He repeated his view, articulated at PAPLS in February that he has never felt a lack of scrutiny in the delivery of the service.  The said that the relationships between all parts of the system are in an entirely different place to 12-18 months ago.  He repeated his observations that the system had never really been able to run in steady state since it had been established - but has done so over the last 12 months, and at a time of national crisis.  There is now an opportunity for the system to work. The pandemic has tested it in the heat of battle.  This year’s experience demonstrates that there is no need for a major review.

12. Michelle Macleod, PIRC

Ms Macleod agreed that relationships are good, and have been consolidated this year, with more frameworks and protocols in place, which will help protect the robustness of the system. 

13. Paul Johnston, Director General, Education, Communities and Justice

Mr Johnson endorsed the comments, and recognised that the system is now in a different place.  He recognised the steady and continuous progress that has taken place over several years. 

14. CSJ acknowledged these comments and stated that there needed to be confident that the structures would hold, regardless of personnel in place, to mitigate against potential reinterpretation of roles and responsibilities in future.  It was recognised that the functioning of any system will in the main depend on the willingness and collaboration of the organisations involved although there should be sufficient rigour in the system to withstand individual perspectives.  The recently revised SPA Governance and Accountability Framework is a part of that package.

Independent report by Robert Black

15. CSJ invited members to reflect on the report of the independent review of SPA Chair and Board members, which was commissioned by the Scottish Government from Robert Black, the former Auditor General of Scotland.

16. The report was welcomed by the Group.  It was recognised that a lot of progress had been made in cooperation and joint planning by Police Scotland, SPA and HMICS, and that many of the recommendations in the report are being taken forward in some form already.  It was agreed that it would be helpful to map these out against activity, to enable cross-referrals to the progress on the recommendations of the HMICS Thematic Review.  This would track progress on each and ensure that issues were being identified and addressed and to help identify any gaps.  The importance of recognising the independence of each organisation was acknowledged.

Action: Scottish Government to produce initial map to share with partners

17. It was agreed that a short, sharp description of the governance on which policing is based and which defines roles and responsibilities for future is currently missing.   The Roundtable agreed to develop this product

Action: Scottish Government officials to work with partners to develop this for approval at the next meeting of the Roundtable. 

Status/Location of Accountable Officer

18. The Group continued its discussion on this issue, which Mr Black had suggested should not be changed.  The need to protect the independence of the Chief Constable and the principles of the 2012 Act (namely that there should be appropriate distance between Ministers and the Police Service of Scotland) was recognised.  It was also recognised that this continues to be raised as an issue and should be further explored.  It was agreed that there could appear to be a degree of “artificiality” about the current arrangements whereby the Chief Constable makes the actual spending decisions while not being directly accountable for those arrangements.  The meeting also discussed whether there would be clear tangible benefits from changing the current arrangements.

19. CSJ agreed that this is an important issues adding that he felt there is no lack of Parliamentary accountability for any of the partners around the table.  Scottish Government will consider further.


20. The group discussed ways of reaching beyond the membership of the Group, as had been requested by the Policing Sub-Committee in its letter of 7 October which was tabled for discussion.  It was recognised that engagement with civic society is essential but that it is important to avoid the Roundtable becoming unwieldy and that members were aware of a range of already existing fora that would be important to assist in reaching out to groups.

21. For example, the work of the Independent Advisory Group, chaired by John Scott, has created further opportunities for regular discussions with a range of interests, specifically around governance issues, i.e. of the use of the extended policing powers introduced to address the pandemic.  The Chair of Police Scotland’s National Independent Strategic Advisory Group (NISAG) is a member of this group.  Police also speak to a range of human rights groups around COVID-19 and increasingly COP26 and it was recognised that this needs to be made a broad as possible. 

22. Police Scotland has regular contact with local authorities through their Divisional commander structure, and regularly liaise with COSLA and SOLACE – this has been enhanced this year as they have sought to work collaboratively to respond to the pandemic.  The six monthly COSLA Police Scrutiny Conveners Forum, which includes senior SPA officials and Police Scotland officers last met in September  Councillor Parry, who chairs the group, has been co-opted onto SPA’s Performance Committee.  It was acknowledged that more could be done and the group agreed to consider further options.

23. CSJ confirmed that he had written to Susan Deacon, the former chair of SPA, to give her the opportunity to provide any further contribution to discussion on governance and accountability issues based on her experiences as Chair.

24. CSJ thanked members for the discussion and recognised the need to reach out further, while recognising that many third sector groups have had great demands placed on them this year in being asked to contribute to Scottish Government and-19 and other issues.  We need to be clear that we need to avoid duplication.


24. There was no other business


25. CSJ thanked all participants for a very positive and constructive discussion.  This is a time for consolidation of the progress made, ensuring stability in the system which is performing well, but ensuring that we bring rigorous scrutiny to the operation of the system.  He said that the meeting has identified actions that will take this forward and he looked forward to the next meeting of the Roundtable in 2021.

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