Creation of Single Force 'A Mistake'

23 July 2016, 06:37 | Updated: 23 July 2016, 09:22

Reform Scotland said the creation of a single police force was ''a mistake'' and reform is necessary to reinstate local policing.

The Scottish Police Authority (SPA), a board of 11 ministerial appointees from the public and private sector, should be replaced by a much larger board including councillors from every local authority, the think tank has recommended.

It also criticised the Scottish Government's centralisation of police funding, insisting councils cannot have meaningful input on local policing unless they also control some of the revenue.

In a paper on reinventing local policing, Reform Scotland said: ``He who pays the piper calls the tune, and if local authorities are to have any meaningful input into policing in Scotland they must contribute toward the cost of policing.

''There needs to be a change back to the old system where there is roughly a 50/50 split in funding policing between local authorities and the Scottish Government.

''The Scottish Police Authority is basically a quango with members appointed by government and this blurs transparency and accountability.

''The membership should be made up of a split between local government and central government appointees to reflect the split in funding.

''To ensure that the need for diversity and flexibility is accommodated by a single police force, it would be necessary to have a representative from each local authority.''

The think tank acknowledged that a board featuring councillors from 32 local authorities would be very large but it has also recommended a review of council boundaries as part of a wider programme of reform.

Reform Scotland research director Alison Payne said: ''The creation of Police Scotland was a mistake and in the absence of any further wholesale reform we all have a responsibility to make the smaller changes which can help re-create local policing.''

Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur said: ``Officers, civilian staff and communities alike have been left counting the cost of these botched reforms.

''The SNP were warned time and again that centralising the police would damage local policing but they did not listen.

''There is an urgent need to put democracy back into policing and boosting the role of councils in shaping local policing plans would be a sensible step in the right direction.''

An SPA spokeswoman said: ''A review of governance in policing, informed by the first three years of experience of the new arrangements, was published four months ago.

''The review considered the pros and cons of various models of accountability at home and abroad and concluded that the SPA was the right model for governing a national police service while also making a number of recommendations aimed at strengthening the existing arrangements.

''The review has been formally welcomed by the local government umbrella body Cosla, who have acknowledged the real commitments within it to encouraging localism within Police Scotland and enhancing local scrutiny and accountability.''

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ''Despite the inevitable challenges of implementing the most significant public-sector reform in Scotland since devolution - which was backed by cross-party support across the Scottish Parliament - policing continues to perform excellently.

''Recorded crime in Scotland is at a 41-year low, with violent crime down by more than half since 2006-07.

''Police in Scotland are accountable to the SPA, not ministers - protecting their ability to continue to serve communities without political interference - a long-standing principle in Scotland.

''The Scottish Government has already commissioned a review of governance from the chair of the SPA which was published in March, setting out 30 recommendations for further strengthening oversight of policing and we are working closely with SPA to deliver on these.''