Policing

– in the Scottish Parliament on 5th December 2012.

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Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05087, in the name of Lewis Macdonald, on policing in Scotland.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

When the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill went through the Parliament earlier this year, Labour and other parties raised a series of concerns about the legislation itself and about the ways in which the creation of a single Scottish police force would be implemented. Above all, although supporting both the principle of the bill and the bill itself, we raised serious concerns that many hundreds of loyal and hardworking members of police staff would lose their jobs in order to balance the books and that, as a result, many hundreds of police officers would be taken off the front line to backfill civilian jobs in the new service.

The Government amendment today highlights an increase of 65 police staff jobs across Scotland over the last quarter compared with the previous quarter. I fear that police staff will simply despair at such a superficial defence from a Government that fails to acknowledge a net loss of more than 900 civilian staff jobs over the past two years.

Mr MacAskill laughs as if his defence is a significant one. More than 900 jobs have been lost over the past two years; there is a prediction by the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland that a further 3,000 jobs will be at risk over the next three years; and Mr MacAskill comes to the chamber and asks members to regard an increase in one quarter of 1 per cent of the workforce as a significant difference from the pattern that he has set.

We return to the central issue of staff jobs but in a context that I suspect few would have anticipated when the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 was passed. The most immediate issue that is confronting police staff is not what cuts will be made but who will make those decisions in the first place. When the chairman of the Scottish Police Authority and the chief constable of the police service of Scotland gave evidence to the Justice Committee last week, their failure to agree on who was responsible for what was there for all to see. The First Minister described that last week as “creative tension”. However, from the point of view of those whose jobs are most at risk, it was a lot more serious than that. These were more than differences of personal or professional opinion; they were also differences of legal opinion so important that both Vic Emery and Stephen House resorted to taking external advice at public expense on the proper interpretation of the new force’s founding statute. That quite remarkable situation deserves to be brought to the attention of the whole Parliament. After all, it was Parliament that passed the act, including exceptional provision that the Parliament should keep the new arrangements under review and provide regular reports. What the act means, what was intended by it and how it should be interpreted are matters that concern us all.

The 2012 act establishes a single police force by amalgamating eight existing police forces and two existing national bodies. However, that amalgamation creates not one new national body, but two—a new police service and a new Police Authority board. The issue is which of those bodies should be responsible for what.

The 2012 act provides that the forensic service should be delivered by the authority in order to keep a sterile corridor between police officers and forensic evidence. As Stephen House told the Justice Committee last week, as chief constable he has also conceded control to the authority over a number of important areas, most notably information and communication technology. He is not so willing to give up day-to-day control of police staff or of police finance—for good reason. Direction and control of police staff are the responsibility of the chief constable. They have to be, if he is to take operational responsibility for policing in Scotland. That is clear in the act, in the responses of ministers and in the Government’s amendment today.

However, the chairman of the board, Vic Emery, has formed a different opinion on the basis of the legal advice that he received. He told the Justice Committee last week:

“The police staff will always be employed by the SPA, but before they become police staff, they are staff. When they get allocated to the police service of Scotland, they become police staff; and when that happens, they come under the direction and control of the chief constable.”

Stephen House gave the Justice Committee his own interpretation, again based on the legal advice that he received:

“In effect, the board loans the police staff to the chief constable on a day-to-day basis”.—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 27 November 2012; c 2127-8.]

Then they come under his direction and control.

Those statements require clarification—that is where the Government has a responsibility to clearly express its own view. The statement

“before they become police staff, they are staff” is a proposition that does not appear to be supported by the 2012 act.

People who are currently police staff with existing forces are about to become police staff of the single national force. It must surely be a matter of concern that the authority that is to employ them appears to believe that there is a point in that process at which they are not police staff at all. Equally, the idea that staff are on loan to the police service does not seem to provide a secure basis for the conduct of their day-to-day duties, as staff who are on loan between organisations on a day-to-day basis could presumably be there today and gone tomorrow.

The Justice Committee invited Mr Emery and Mr House to share their conflicting legal opinions, and both have done so. The committee has not yet seen fit to publish those opinions. I hope that it will revisit that decision in the interests of transparency, but it is clear that that is a matter for it to decide.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

This is not breaking news, but the committee has agreed that those opinions would be treated as private. There is a letter to that effect to Vic Emery and the chief constable on our website. I think that there was a misunderstanding at the time, disappointing though that is. We thought that we would be given them to publish, but we have accepted that there was a misunderstanding. We are not happy about that, but we have agreed together as a committee to go forward and keep the matter private.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

I understand that, and it is clear that the committee is free to determine what to do with that information on the basis of the advice that it has received. However, we have on the record the views that have been offered on behalf of the Scottish Government by the head of police and fire reform, Christie Smith, to both the Scottish Police Authority and the police service of Scotland. They are available on the Justice Committee’s pages on the Parliament’s website and at the back of the chamber. His letter takes issue with Mr Emery’s central proposition that the authority rather than the chief constable is responsible for the administration of the police service. It refers to section 17(2)(b) of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, which, it says, provides that

“the administration of the Police Service is a responsibility of the Chief Constable”.

The letter describes the question of who does what as “a business decision” to be agreed between the authority and the chief constable, and says that it is

“not a question that is constrained by the Act.”

If the Scottish Police Authority now accepts that view and seeks to make an agreement on that basis with the chief constable, it is clear that progress can be made. However, if it does not, or if agreement cannot be reached on the management and control of staffing and resources, the police service itself will suffer.

Mr Smith’s letter is equally clear that the chief constable is not constrained in what he can ask civilian staff as opposed to police officers to do. That was a possible unintended consequence of the 2012 act, which caused the chief constable concern. According to Mr Smith, the Government’s view is that

“There is nothing in the Act to prevent police staff, acting in support of policing functions, from operating autonomously or taking decisions in the course of their employment.”

Again, it is important that that is made clear to the police, the authority and the staff themselves.

We are holding this debate in order to give the cabinet secretary an opportunity to put on the record his own view on those matters; to endorse—as I expect and hope that he will—the responses of his senior official to the various legal opinions that have been offered on the interpretation of the 2012 act; and to tell us whether the differences of opinion have now been resolved or continue to be debated and disputed within the service or the authority. If they are not yet resolved, he should tell us what he will do about that.

This is not an abstract debate about legal definitions, and it is not simply about the wisdom or otherwise of senior public servants seeking separate legal opinions on the interpretation of a brand new act of Parliament; it is about the security and certainty of employment of nearly 7,000 police staff. The civilians who work for the police already face enough uncertainties, with the very real prospect of many job losses over the next three years. We are calling for ministers to address those public servants’ concerns and to give them some confidence that the budget cuts that the police service faces will not simply be delivered at their expense. We want to see no more backfilling of staff jobs by police officers, whether in custody suites or call-and-command centres, or in administrative duties in police stations. We want to see no contracting out of jobs that are currently undertaken by civilian staff to G4S or anyone else.

Most immediately, staff need to see an end to the jousting for control between the Police Authority and the police service and a recognition by the authority’s board that it is there to maintain the service, keep the policing of Scotland under review and hold the chief constable to account, not to run the police service at its own hand. We need to hear from the cabinet secretary today that the disputes have been resolved, or that they will be resolved before Christmas, so that all concerned can get on with the core policing task of making Scotland and its communities safe.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the view of the Scottish Government that “the Chief Constable has direction and control of the Police Service of Scotland and is responsible for its day to day administration”; regrets the First Minister’s description of the dispute between the Chief Constable and the Chair of the Scottish Police Authority over responsibility for the delivery of policing in Scotland as “creative tension”; calls on the Scottish Government to establish a clear deadline for the resolution of this dispute, and further calls on the Scottish Government to guarantee that there will be no back-filling of staff posts by police officers or contracting out of staff posts to the private sector to meet the budget cuts planned over the next three years.

The Presiding Officer:

I call Kenny MacAskill to speak to and move amendment S4M-05087.1. Mr MacAskill, you have seven minutes.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I welcome the opportunity to respond to the Labour Party motion and Lewis Macdonald’s opening speech. This debate comes just a day after we announced record police numbers. There are now 17,454 officers working in our communities, an increase of 1,220 on the 2007 figure. They are supported by 6,955 police staff—an increase of 65 over the last quarter.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

Does the cabinet secretary accept that police staff numbers have fallen by more than 900 since March 2010 and that the increase of 65 is only over the past few months?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I get asked such questions regularly by Labour Party members—sometimes by Ms Marra and sometimes by others. I have given a snapshot that shows that at the present time we have more police officers than ever before. It also shows that, despite the predictions of doom and gloom by Ms Marra, the numbers of police staff have increased, not decreased.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

The cabinet secretary talks of predictions, so will he now give us a prediction and say whether he anticipates that trend of increasing staff numbers to continue?

The Presiding Officer:

Cabinet secretary, I remind you that you have seven minutes and no longer.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I will move on then, Presiding Officer.

We have made our position clear that officers and staff are performing excellently together. Crime is at a 37-year low, clear-up rates are at a 30-year high and public confidence is high. Indeed, figures published yesterday show an overall halving in the number of firearms offences since 2006-07. That is testament to the hard work and dedication of every single person working in policing in Scotland, day in, day out.

As we all know, public finances are under greater pressure than ever before as a result of Westminster budget cuts. The vital front-line policing that we all depend on is under threat, but this Government will not let it be threatened. That is why, after extensive debate and consultation, we embarked on the most radical reform of policing in decades. Reform is the only way to safeguard our hard-won gains against Westminster cuts, and it presents a unique opportunity to do more, allowing us to make a virtue out of a necessity.

Moving from 10 police organisations to one means that the service will be more efficient, eventually delivering £106 million of savings every year. We will no longer need support functions duplicated many times over, or the duplicated roles of chief constables and deputy chief constables. As duplication across the police service of Scotland is reduced, there will be fewer police support staff roles. We do not underestimate that challenge, but the Armageddon scenario set out by Labour is just not happening—indeed, staff numbers are up. I recognise and value the role of police staff, which will continue in the new single service. I have therefore made my position clear that there should be no compulsory redundancies for police support staff.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I thank the cabinet secretary for giving way, given the shortness of time for his speech. Before he moves on to talk about staffing, I want to ask him about policy making. I have in front of me the strategy and supporting operational guidance for policing prostitution and sexual exploitation that was agreed in September last year. It recommends that there should be a devolved or localised way of managing the issue. Will that continue under the single police force?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Those will be operational matters on which Ms MacDonald will no doubt engage with Mr House or one of his deputes. I have no doubt that they will be happy to engage on that and discuss it with her.

In Steve House and Vic Emery, we have excellent leaders. Steve brings strong leadership, unrivalled experience and a reputation for successful delivery; and Vic brings extensive expertise from business and wider public sector governance. They are now supported by a strong board and four excellent deputy chief constables, with assistant chief constables expected to be appointed before Christmas.

On governance, the 2012 act is clear: the chief constable has direction and control of the police service, and the SPA is responsible for holding him or her to account for the delivery of policing. The SPA and the chief constable are moving towards agreement—indeed, they are meeting again as we speak. In a letter to me yesterday, which I have lodged in the Scottish Parliament information centre—reference 54549—the chair confirmed that discussions have been “fruitful and progressive”.

It is for the SPA and the chief constable to determine how best to fulfil their responsibilities, and it would be inappropriate for the Parliament or the Government to tell them how to do that. There is no simple formula that determines who should do what, but it has never been the case that the chief constable wanted to control everything or that the SPA wanted to control police functions. The dialogue is about how the SPA can fulfil its responsibility to hold the service to account effectively, while giving the chief constable a coherent and effective set of responsibilities to deliver policing.

There is no remaining contention about what the legislation says about the respective roles. The chief constable and the SPA have reached agreement on the responsibility for all functions apart from human resources and finance, and they have agreed that the chief constable will be responsible for HR and finance delivery, so we are 95 per cent of the way there. The remaining point of discussion is on the reporting lines for the head of HR and finance. That will be the focus of today’s meeting.

I and my officials have been taking a close interest in the issue, as members would expect. We have been involved in a number of informal discussions that involved the chief constable and the chair. I repeat that it is for the chief constable and the chair to determine how best to fulfil their responsibilities.

At the Justice Committee, Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary for Scotland, Andrew Laing, said:

“what we are going through at the moment is healthy and necessary.”

He went on to say:

“we are getting closer to a well-balanced system”.—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 27 November 2012; c 2112-3.]

I reject the Labour Party motion. Our amendment celebrates the success of policing in Scotland. I urge Mr Macdonald to have more faith in two men of outstanding calibre, who have been appointed, correctly, to positions that I think that they will cherish and in which they will deliver.

I move amendment S4M-05087.2, to leave out from “the view” to end and insert:

“that the Chief Constable has direction and control of the Police Service of Scotland and is responsible for its day to day administration; welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to providing 1,000 extra police officers in Scotland’s communities, with a total of 17,454 officers on 30 September 2012, an increase of 1,220 on the 2007 figure; welcomes the contribution provided by 6,955 police staff, an increase of 65 over the last quarter; notes that crime is at a 37-year low and public confidence is high; notes that the overall number of firearms offences in Scotland has more than halved since 2006-07, with a decrease of 21% in the number of firearms offences recorded between 2010-11 and 2011-12, and recognises that this is testament to the hard work of police officers and staff working in policing in Scotland.”

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

I welcome the opportunity to speak about policing in Scotland and I commend the Scottish Labour Party for using its debating time to focus on this important issue. The debate comes less than four months before the establishment of a single police force, and the fact that fundamental governance issues remain is clearly a cause for concern.

It is worth noting that the Scottish Police Authority is meeting today to discuss governance arrangements and proposed structures and staffing numbers across the service. Given the live date of 1 April 2013, time is tight and it will be a challenge to ensure that the necessary structures are set up before then.

Just last week, as we heard, the Justice Committee was told that the chief constable, Stephen House, and the chair of the Scottish Police Authority, Vic Emery, disagreed over their relationship with important backroom personnel. I do not share the First Minister’s view that that amounts only to “creative tension”. Governance might not set the pulse racing, but it is an important topic.

The chief constable believes that it is “essential” that he has day-to-day control over certain backroom functions if he is to have the

“direction and control of the Police Service” that the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 confers on him. However, he told the committee that he had received legal advice that the 2012 act does not allow the SPA to delegate to him control over support staff. What the First Minister describes as “creative tension”, the man who will run Scotland’s police force thinks is

“a gobsmacking major problem with the legislation.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 27 November 2012; c 2119.]

Where the balance of power lies is important, not because the current postholders are incapable of working together but because we do not know who will be in post in future and what decisions they will have to make. The Scottish Government must do all that it can do to ensure that the dispute is resolved as quickly as possible. More important, it must reflect on the fact that its legislation has fallen short.

Disagreement remains over who will have control over finance and HR. It is significant that those are the two departments that will be most involved in staffing decisions. Let us be frank: a single police force will inevitably lead to job losses.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Does the member accept that it has been made quite clear that the issue is not who controls, because it has been accepted that the line of accountability is to the chief constable? Does he accept that the point in dispute is reporting lines, not control?

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

The cabinet secretary has perhaps articulated more clearly than was expected the difficulties that will arise when the job cuts come. We should be under no illusions: there will be significant job cuts when the single police force comes into operation. The lines of control, which are undoubtedly confused, will generate tensions.

Eight separate back-office departments will be merged into one. That is how savings will be made and how we will create a more efficient police force—I do not dispute that. It is right that that will be done gradually and that voluntary redundancies will be the starting point. However, the tensions and concerns will create problems for the future.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

Does the member agree that the points of contention on HR and finance that the cabinet secretary outlined today are the same points of contention that the Justice Committee heard about two weeks ago? It does not seem that a lot of progress has been made since then.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

I entirely agree with what the member says.

There are two points that will not make things easy for the single police force. First, we still do not have a full business case that outlines what savings will be made. During the passage of the bill, the Scottish Government repeatedly said the single force would save £130 million a year and £1.7 billion over 15 years, but those figures were based on an outline business case that was produced in the summer of 2011 and they were never intended to inform the debate on whether the single force would produce the savings. A full business case should have been published before the bill was passed, but instead it has been left to the Police Authority to determine.

Secondly, Scotland’s police forces have a combined outstanding debt of £104 million, which will transfer to the new service in April, meaning that on day 1 the single service will already owe £104 million. It has been suggested that as many as 3,000 civilian posts will be lost in order to balance the police budget. It is right that that is a decision for the single force but, as it represents nearly 50 per cent of the current total, I question whether it is a sustainable prospect.

I disagree with the point in Lewis Macdonald’s motion on the use of the private sector for civilian posts. I am not opposed in principle to the police service using the private sector in certain circumstances. If the private sector can deliver the same services in a cost-effective manner, we should surely welcome that.

I move amendment S4M-05087.1, to leave out from “or” to end and insert:

“and ensure transparency and openness in the financial decision-making process and that such decisions must include the flexibility to establish local solutions for local issues.”

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I, too, welcome today’s debate on policing in Scotland. As the cabinet secretary has pointed out in both his speech and the Government’s amendment, it comes at a time when the number of police officers in Scotland has reached a record high and crime is at a record low. The general public welcomes that record, and am surprised that the Labour Party has not recognised it. It is important to acknowledge those achievements, and I hope that all parties will balance their views with recognition of the achievements that have been made.

It is equally important to take a moment to recognise the hard work and dedication of all those who are involved in Scotland’s police force and to thank them for the work that they do in keeping our communities safe.

That said, we cannot rest on those achievements alone. The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill was passed with the support of the Labour Party. Although the Conservatives abstained and the Liberals opposed the bill, we were able to respond to the challenges that face the police service at a time—it must be mentioned—of unprecedented cuts to Scotland’s block grant, which we must acknowledge come directly from Westminster.

As I said, the Labour Party supported the bill. In its manifesto, it stated that it would, if elected,

“increase administrative efficiencies and free up resources for the frontline” by legislating

“to deliver a single police force for Scotland”.

I welcome that. One of the principal aims of the single police force is to avoid duplication, allowing the police service to protect front-line staff and front-line policing.

I note Lewis Macdonald’s contribution to today’s debate, and to an extent I agree with some of his comments. It is important that there is a clear agreement between the chief constable and the chair of the Scottish Police Authority. As a member of the Justice Committee, I had the opportunity, as did others, to listen to evidence from the chief constable and the chair of the authority. They said that most areas of the new police structure had been agreed upon and that agreement will be reached in any other areas that require it.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

I acknowledge that many areas appear to have been resolved, but will Sandra White confirm that she said in committee that she did not accept the argument that there was no dispute and that there was a dispute that had to be resolved?

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

The issue might be the language that has been used by some, such as “dispute”. We needed clarification, but I believe that the cabinet secretary has clarified that the chief constable and the chair have agreed and it will not be long before we have a full agreement on the matter. I believe that, if we think back, there has been a pragmatic approach to the establishment of a single police force, as we would expect.

I have no doubt that both the chief constable and the chair of the SPA have the best interests of the police force in their minds and that they will work to achieve what is best for it. All of us in the Parliament should support them in doing that at this time.

When the 2012 act was passed, members of other parties raised the issue of political interference in the police force and wanted assurances that that would not happen. I agreed with that 100 per cent, and I still agree with it fully. That is one reason why I am a little confused by Lewis Macdonald’s motion, which clearly calls for a significant degree of political interference in the police force—something that he did not want when the act was passed. It would be confusing—or perhaps a little disappointing—if Mr Macdonald’s motion sought to make political capital out of a situation that we all want to see resolved.

It is worth noting the chief constable’s view on backfilling. He stated:

“there is no plan or strategy for reform that I am in charge of that is predicated on backfilling.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 23 October 2012; c 1851.]

I welcome the chief constable’s assurances that backfilling will not happen on his watch. I also welcome the fact that both the chair of the Police Authority board and the chief constable have stated that they are focused on delivering the best police force possible for the people of Scotland. We should support them in that aim.

Photo of Graeme Pearson Graeme Pearson Labour

The cabinet secretary will remember that I first went to see him in December last year; John Finnie invited me to do so and Christine Grahame encouraged me. I wanted to speak to him about two pressing issues. The first was the governance arrangements for the SPS and an absolute need for clarity on operational independence. The second was the absence of democratic oversight on the part of the Parliament at a key time of police reform.

This morning, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents contacted me to reinforce its concern about operational independence. The incoming chief constable is already on record on that matter and there is a difference of view with his chair. Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary has also commented.

In July 2012, the police reform team prepared a blueprint, agreed with civil servants, that showed the directors of finance and HR alongside the heads of public information and corporate services, reporting via the chief constable to the board. They were all answerable to the chief constable.

In the absence of any statement from the cabinet secretary, it soon became evident that the incoming chair of the SPA had different views. At his first appearance before the Justice Committee on 23 October, Mr Emery was less than candid about his approach to questions of governance and structure, yet days later at his induction meeting for the SPA on 29 October he was able to say:

“We have a very wide ranging set of responsibilities in the running of policing ... I am a businessman and I see policing through that lens ... I equate the Chief Constable to a Chief Operations Officer ... The vision does not have a final form. It is the SPA that will develop that clarity”.

As a result of various approaches from ASPS, which included support from the Scottish Police Federation, and approaches from across the police service, I lodged a motion on 5 November entitled “Concerns about Threat to Operational Independence of Single Police Force”. Questions asked of both the cabinet secretary and the First Minister produced a lack of clarity on future operational independence.

Much has been made of a creative friction, almost in a light-hearted way, but policing provides the bedrock upon which many communities build. Arrangements for the tone, direction and—yes—vision for policing have an impact on that bedrock.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Can Graeme Pearson tell me what the clear notion in the legislation is on who fires and who hires? We have had mad and bad in that position before.

Photo of Graeme Pearson Graeme Pearson Labour

Margo MacDonald makes a good point, which I will come to at the end of my speech.

On 27 November, the Justice Committee brought back the chief constable and the SPA chair, along with HMICS, to resolve possible conflicts. The way forward was further confused at that meeting. The chief constable said that if the debate about primacy and operational independence continues for

“a lot longer, it might start to become negative”.

He added later:

“I believe that it is essential that I have day-to-day control of the HR and finance functions”.—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 27 November 2012; c 2111, 2126.]

That day, we learned far more about what was happening from the words that were not uttered than from the few that were. Reporting lines to the authority should be through the chief constable.

The questions for the cabinet secretary are whether he agrees with Christie Smith’s letter, whether he equates the chief constable with an operational manager and whether the convener or the chief constable is responsible for policing.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I will deal briefly with three issues: first, the job losses or backfilling; secondly, the relationship between Emery and House—they could be a good double act in time; and, thirdly, parliamentary scrutiny.

On backfilling, Chief Constable Smith said:

“I do not think that anyone in the service or from any of the staff associations or professional bodies would advocate backfilling.”

Chief Constable House said:

“there is no plan or strategy for reform that I am in charge of that is predicated on backfilling.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 23 October 2012; c 1832, 1851.]

In relation to non-operational matters, the cabinet secretary has given an undertaking to Unison that there will be no compulsory redundancies.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I am sorry, but I do not have time. This is a short debate.

The fact is that the single police force in Scotland is envied in England and Wales—members should listen to Radio 4 occasionally. Instead of cuts to the front line, we are cutting our cloth by removing duplication of chiefs, not Indians, if you will forgive my metaphor. Indeed, Labour has stated that it would have made cuts of 12 per cent in England and Wales. As for the Tory-Liberal coalition, there is the possibility of 16,000 police in England and Wales losing their jobs. I invite members to compare that with a 7.5 per cent increase in the police in Scotland.

I turn to the so-called jostling between the SPA chief and the chief constable. I am confident that the issue will be resolved. Indeed, they indicated to the committee that, by 5 December—I think that that is today, but I am not sure—resolution should be well on its way, and we hope to have that meeting of minds. Perhaps it has done them no harm to spend so much time together. The committee was told:

“We are also focused on working together; in fact, we spend a lot of time together and between October and Christmas we will have achieved the appointment of all the deputy and assistant chief constables and have agreed a voluntary redundancy scheme.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 27 November 2012; c 2109.]

Two very powerful men have got to know each other and I am sure that their relationship will work in time. It has a lot to do with personalities. I am not going to the wedding, but it might get close.

As back benchers who were concerned about the SPA and the single police force, Alison McInnes, Graeme Pearson and I put to the Parliamentary Bureau and then the Presiding Officer the idea of a cross-party scrutiny panel comprising back benchers from all parties—without a built-in Government majority—and chaired by the convener of the Justice Committee in an independent capacity to look at the arrangements for the implementation and management of the police service of Scotland; the relationships and structures in place to deliver the responsibilities and functions attached to the SPA, the chief constable and the justice directorate; and the operation of arrangements for policing in Scotland. It is quite a detailed plan. The panel would have quarterly meetings and would report on its considerations. Other parliamentary committees would be involved, such as the Local Government and Regeneration Committee and the Finance Committee, and the members of the panel would be there in a representative capacity.

I compare what is happening here to what is happening in England, where there was an election for police and crime commissioners with a 15 per cent turnout at a cost of £75 million. They are going in completely the wrong direction. In Scotland, by having a single police force and introducing parliamentary scrutiny we are cutting our cloth, not cutting the service.

Photo of Alison McInnes Alison McInnes Liberal Democrat

I thank the Labour Party for bringing the debate to the Parliament this afternoon. The police reforms are at a crucial stage and it is right that we seek to clarify a few basic issues—minor details such as who is in charge of what.

The whole chamber knows that the Liberal Democrats opposed the creation of a single force. Indeed, there has been some “creative tension” between the Government and ourselves. However, now that we are past the point of no return we want to do what we can to ensure that the new police service functions smoothly.

The new force begins operation in four months and, before it does, there is much that needs to happen. First, clearly, we must ensure that there is clarity about exactly what the Scottish Police Authority and the police service of Scotland are responsible for. Things have not got off to a good start in that respect. As a member of the Justice Committee, I witnessed first-hand the evidence of Vic Emery, the chair of the SPA, and Chief Constable House. They were at loggerheads with each other last week. It was one of the more open and frank evidence sessions and it provided an insight into the difficulties that are being faced in establishing the SPA and the police service of Scotland as working entities. It also highlighted the different interpretations of how the relationship between the two should work. Early days are meant for discussion, but it seems that the rushed legislation has left some rather large kinks to be ironed out.

As others have mentioned, the Government was good enough to share the detail of its position on a number of keys areas of dispute, which was welcome. The Liberal Democrats largely agree with its interpretation of the act, particularly where it places responsibility for the day-to-day running of the new service. However, I hope that the confusion may serve as a warning for the Government to take a little more time over future legislation.

At this point, it is vital that a resolution is reached. In opposition to the single force we often focused on the danger of political interference but, given the circumstances, it is right that the Government does what it can to help facilitate a resolution to the confusion that its new law has caused. If the best way forward is for the Government to set a deadline and make its position clear then, in this instance, that is important.

I find it interesting that, although the Government looks to keep the disagreement between the SPA and SPS chiefs at arm’s length, it is only too happy to wade chest deep into other matters—matters such as prescribing how the new chief constable will spend his budget.

I welcome the fact that there are more police officers in Scotland than ever before, but I cannot agree that an arbitrary number of officers determined by the Scottish National Party’s manifesto team is some holy grail of policing in Scotland. A fundamental tenet of the operational independence of the police is the ability of the chief constable to decide for himself or herself how the resources are best deployed to create a balanced workforce. Having a thousand extra police officers benefits no one unless they are free to get on with the role that they have been trained to do.

The number of civilian staff has fallen dramatically in recent years. It is not for me—or any of us in the chamber—to quantify precisely how many civilian staff our police need to employ, but the fact is that we have already lost more than 900 police staff in the past two years and we know that the brunt of the next round of cuts in the new service will disproportionately fall on those staff. Kenny MacAskill’s praise for their contribution will ring hollow; the many hundreds of police staff whose jobs are at risk will not find any comfort in the Government’s smugly-worded amendment.

If the Scottish Government is serious—as it should be—about refraining from political interference with the police and ensuring that operational independence is protected, then it should show that. It should ensure that the SPA and the police service of Scotland have clarity about the intent and extent of the reform act and then it should leave them to go on with the job and allow them to shape a modern police service that maximises the value of both staff and officers and removes the artificial distinctions that the SNP has nurtured.

Photo of Colin Keir Colin Keir Scottish National Party

I have read the Labour Party motion and I have just a hint of a feeling that it is a wee bit premature.

I asked the new chief constable and the chair of the SPA at the Justice Committee:

“How far have you got with resolving the two areas that are still under debate and, indeed, when can we expect a resolution in that respect?”

Vic Emery replied:

“We have said publicly that all of the structures will be in place before the end of the year.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 27 November; c 2109.]

The new chief constable agreed with that assessment.

I firmly believe that we should wait for and allow the discussions to continue to the timescale provided by Mr House and Mr Emery. After all—as has been pointed out—their actions will show how effectively the two have developed their working relationship, if nothing else. Given how determined the two appear to be to resolve any problems, it is not necessary for the Scottish Government to step in.

As far as the First Minister’s use of the term “creative tension” is concerned, that is just a storm in a teacup caused by the slightly mischievous Opposition in this chamber.

The future of policing is positive, despite the cuts handed down from Westminster that were pointed out by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. We have a new chief constable who has believed in the creation of a single police force since before the Scottish Government introduced the legislation. Going by his evidence to the Justice Committee, he is holding strongly to that view and is determined to make it work.

The new single police force will inherit record numbers of police officers, the lowest level of recorded crime in 37 years, the highest level of clear-ups for 30 years and rates of violent crime that are at a 30-year low. It has been proven that Scotland’s communities are safer with this SNP Government and I fully expect a drive from the new chief constable to maintain the quality of service being provided under the present management regimes.

In my Edinburgh Western constituency, there is proof that communities are getting safer. For the year ending in September alone, there has been a 16 per cent reduction in crime rates in the council wards in my constituency. Of course, that adds to the longer-term success that I mentioned a few moments ago.

Having spoken to senior police officers in the area, I know that all are positive about the upcoming changes and I believe that the flexibility of the less prescriptive approach, with local authorities, police and communities engaging with each other in identifying local priorities, has been a success. Indeed, that has certainly been the case in my constituency. Moreover, the consultation on the community policing plans is on-going. In fact, at a meeting this evening at the Drumbrae hub, council officials, the public and the police will discuss the future.

Obviously, changes are not easy in any large organisation. However, considering the savings that have had to be made, I am heartened by Chief Constable House’s evidence to the Justice Committee with regard to backroom staff and the backfilling of posts. Other members have already mentioned that issue.

It is difficult not to compare what is happening in Scotland to what is happening south of the border. The coalition at Westminster has quite clearly lost the faith of the police service and I suspect that at some point the Prime Minister will have to order a review of that Government’s policing policies. If he does not, it is fair to say that there might be an almighty crash in the system.

A prime example of how the coalition has misread public feeling can be found, as Christine Grahame pointed out, in the recent police commissioners elections in England and Wales. Commissioners’ salaries ranging from £65,000 to £100,000—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The member is in his final 15 seconds.

Photo of Colin Keir Colin Keir Scottish National Party

The fact that the elections cost £75 million is nothing short of a scandal and represents a waste of money.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The member is closing.

Photo of Colin Keir Colin Keir Scottish National Party

I, for one, will keep supporting the Scottish model of policing.

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

I am glad of this chance to debate policing in Scotland and to raise critical issues and concerns that we have about the new single police force. Given that I did not have the opportunity to speak in any of the stages of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill, I am also glad to be able to air my concerns this afternoon, particularly in light of recent stories about who will have overall control of the single force.

The ASPS is right to call for an “outbreak of common sense” to clarify who will have control of the key functions of the force, the establishment of which is only months away, and the Scottish Government must set out a clear deadline for resolving this dispute instead of saying that it will be

“ironed out ... in good time”,—[Official Report, 29 November 2012; c 14126.]

as the First Minister said last week.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Does the member not accept Vic Emery’s position that the only substantive points of dispute between himself and the chief constable are the lines of responsibility with regard to HR and finance? Although he accepts that those are matters for the chief, he has pointed out that the issue is accountability to him. Does the member not accept that that is all that remains outstanding?

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

I do not dispute what the cabinet secretary says, but the fact is that throughout this process we have raised a number of concerns and have received certain assurances. We need clarity about what will happen in taking forward this police force, not more confusion and uncertainty.

We are talking about the future of policing in Scotland and ensuring that we have the best service that meets the local needs of the people in all our communities should be a priority for the First Minister and his Cabinet. Again on the subject of unhelpful language, I point out that using the term “creative tension” to describe the reasonable points that the chair of the Scottish Police Authority and the chief constable have made is inappropriate for such a serious matter and undermines the issue at hand.

Looking back at the Unison Scotland briefing for the stage 3 debate on the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill, I note that it raised issues about MSPs voting on a bill without seeing a final business plan—which is, indeed, what we did.

Although I support the principle of a single police force, the lack of detail in the bill is a problem for the cabinet secretary and his party and—

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

No, I am sorry—I have already given way and I do not have any time.

The problem must be resolved immediately, and not

“ironed out ... in good time”.—[Official Report, 29 November 2012; c 14126.]

The new chief constable of Scotland’s national police force is being held almost in a political straitjacket by the SNP Government’s promise on police officers. Since 2010, almost 1,000 police civilian staff have been cut and, according to Unison, 53 per cent of those posts are being covered in part or in full by police officers. With a budget shortfall of £70 million for the single police force, the new chief constable, Audit Scotland and Unison all agree that up to 3,000 police civilian staff could be cut from the new national service.

The front line of the police force does not extend merely to police officers and their deployment on the streets, but includes essential services such as information technology, human resources and finance. It betrays a lack of understanding of the nature of policing to describe those elements as support staff. Those people are highly trained individuals who are vital to police officers carrying out their duties in the community. It will affect the service and logistics of the new national police force if those positions are filled by backroom bobbies.

I agree with Audit Scotland, which in its recent report stated:

“at a time of continued financial pressures there is a risk that” backfilling

“is not an efficient and sustainable use of resources if adopted longer term.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The member should be drawing to a close.

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

We need a balanced workforce in which the skills of police civilian staff enable police officers to do what the public wants them to do, where it wants them to do it.

Photo of Chic Brodie Chic Brodie Scottish National Party

Given the amount of time that I have, I propose not to accept any interventions.

I do not wish to be churlish, but I am a bit disappointed that the chamber is being somewhat diminished by a very early Opposition motion on this matter, which resorts to discussing operational issues instead of discussing—as we should be doing—policy, strategy and our vision.

Photo of Chic Brodie Chic Brodie Scottish National Party

No, I said that I was not taking any. Time is limited.

The Labour Party has people of the calibre of Mr Macdonald and Mr Pearson, and it should let them join us in the big debates rather than have them scrambling about in a cursory discourse on operational matters that is best left to those who are responsible for the operation.

Photo of Chic Brodie Chic Brodie Scottish National Party

I said that I was not taking any interventions.

It is an operation that is set to carry out our strategy, policy and targets.

On the issue of executive responsibilities in the new police service, the 2012 act outlined the roles and responsibilities for the authority and its chief constable. However, it is not unusual—certainly in my experience—that, in the creation of any new organisation, particularly one as important as the police, the details of how the operation will work and how responsibilities between the executive function and the authority body are to be delineated and pursued need to be addressed. I believe that that will be done appropriately over a required—but probably minimum—period of time.

We cannot have the Opposition on the one hand calling for the service to be freed from ministerial control, while on the other hand seeking the Government’s involvement by pressing for a deadline on operational issues. Resolution is best left to those who are involved, because that in itself will embed the roles, processes, outcomes and responsibilities to which the participants are and will be party, not least in the manning of the service.

Our job in the Parliament is to set policy, outcomes and a direction for the service, and to secure those by review. It is not to micromanage the operation, but to set policies for keeping our streets and communities safe. That is the policy and strategy that created a single police force, and drove the need to put an additional 1,000 police officers on the street, which has resulted in a crime rate that is at its lowest level for 37 years. I note that the clear-up rate is at its highest for 30 years, offensive weapons handling is down and violent crime is at a 30-year low.

The Labour motion

“calls on the Scottish Government to guarantee that there will be no back-filling of staff posts by police officers”.

That indicates the Labour Party’s lack of clarity on, and inability to distinguish between, the operation and the policies that are set for the service. Why would we set a policy on front-line policing to achieve what has already been achieved and then set about jeopardising it? Why would we want to divorce outcomes from a policy that has manifestly made our streets and communities safer?

As Christine Grahame mentioned, the new chief constable has made it clear that

“there is no plan or strategy for reform that I am in charge of that is predicated on backfilling.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 23 October 2012; c 1851.]

Scottish policing policy is in good hands. Of course, there will be changes and efficiencies, but there is no reason to believe that the safety of our communities will be compromised. That is why we should leave operational matters to those who know better and who can manage them better than we can.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

The debate has demonstrated the level of concern that exists about issues surrounding next year’s implementation of the single police force.

The legislation establishing the single police force does not contain the clarity that it should, which is perhaps unsurprising given that the Scottish Government used its majority in both the committee and the Parliament to steam-roller the bill through. In doing so, the Government ignored the vast majority of Opposition amendments that would have resulted in a better act. The failure to listen and the adoption of a totally intransigent position means that the act is all the worse.

The disagreement between Chief Constable Stephen House and the chair of the Scottish Police Authority, Vic Emery, over their respective responsibilities for backroom personnel is evidence of that. It is to be hoped that the disagreement is not indicative of further problems that might emerge. Certainly, the chief constable and the chair of the Police Authority are sensibly working together in negotiations to resolve the matter, but it is deeply worrying that such a major problem with the legislation has emerged at this late date. I say to Christine Grahame and Colin Keir that the governance arrangements could continue to be a significant problem if future appointees do not gel or if the chair of the Police Authority and the chief constable decide to take different stances on support staff.

As others have said, the First Minister cannot dismiss the issue as merely “creative tension”, nor is the Scottish Government’s response, which, in a paper published today, is to the effect that there is no problem, any more acceptable. There is a problem, and the chief constable agrees. Clearly, who has ultimate control over the heads of backroom departments is an important question, which requires a definitive answer.

Another concern is that, with the establishment of a single police force, local accountability may be neither maintained nor, where this would be possible, enhanced. During the passage of the bill, Scottish Conservative amendments sought to address that problem by increasing local authority representation on the Police Authority board and by seeking to clarify what happens when there is disagreement between local commanders and local authorities over policing plans. Those amendments were rejected by the Scottish Government, with the result that the single police force act gives great emphasis to a single set of national structures and solutions.

Happily, despite the Scottish Government’s steer, the chief constable understands the importance of local policing and has announced that the assistant chief constable will be based outside the central belt and that 14 divisions will be set up across Scotland with a chief superintendent running each division. That divisional approach is welcome, but it is significant that the structure has been devised not as a result of the provisions of the act but because of a proactive decision by the chief constable.

In conclusion, less than four months from the single force becoming a reality, there remains disagreement over who in practice will control HR and finance, the legislation does not adequately protect local accountability and local doubts remain about the savings that the Scottish Government claims will be made. All of that means that, as Graeme Pearson confirmed, it is essential and entirely appropriate for the Parliament closely to monitor the implementation of the single police force, bearing in mind that important financial decisions must be taken in a transparent and open way and that one size does not fit all. The single police force must be sufficiently flexible to establish local solutions for local issues.

I congratulate Labour on securing this debate.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I note those mutual congratulations between Labour and the Tories, who continue their better together campaign. Tragically for them, the crime statistics here in Scotland keep getting better.

Let me deal with the matter that we are debating. Is there an issue between the chief constable and the chair of the Scottish Police Authority? Yes. Does it relate to operational independence? Absolutely not. That point is not and has never been in dispute. That control rests with the chief constable, and the chair of the authority accepts that.

As was pointed out at the Justice Committee, the position remains that the two are 95 per cent of the way towards agreement. I wish that they were 100 per cent of the way, but they are meeting as we debate and I hope and expect that matters will be resolved.

Photo of Graeme Pearson Graeme Pearson Labour

Will the cabinet secretary be good enough to acknowledge that the pressure from the Justice Committee in examining the matters might have encouraged those two people to deal with some of their differences?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I have no doubt that that is a factor. I have welcomed the Justice Committee’s involvement. I have had regular meetings with the ASPS and the Scottish Police Federation. Equally, I meet with those two gentlemen regularly.

That takes me back to my next question. What is the point of the remaining discussion? It is about the reporting lines for the heads of HR and finance. It is not about operational independence or control, and it is not about Mr Emery seeking to be in charge of HR or finance; it is simply about the reporting lines.

We are not dealing with two people who are naive or who do not have great credibility. Mr House is an experienced officer who has been an outstanding chief constable of Strathclyde Police and who was shortlisted for the post of Metropolitan Police commissioner. He is one of our finest police officers. Vic Emery is a significant businessman who has contributed greatly in business and who continues to contribute in public life in Scotland. The two worked together on the Scottish Police Services Authority. They know and respect each other and they are working together to resolve matters.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

The cabinet secretary has not yet referred to the letter from Mr Smith to Mr Emery and Mr House, which is now on the public record and which attempts to resolve some of the differences in interpretation of the act that had been offered by their legal advisers. Do Mr Emery and Mr House accept in full the views that were put forward on the cabinet secretary’s behalf by Mr Smith, or do they continue to dispute any aspects of that advice?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Throughout the debate, points have been made about the necessity for operational independence. We have had a debate on the structures for policing, during which Alison McInnes and others said how important it is that there is no ministerial interference in policing. However, no sooner have we got the bill through than Mr Macdonald and others seem to insist on me and the Government interfering.

We have to allow those two men of outstanding calibre to narrow the very small issue that now remains. They are meeting as we speak and I hope that matters will be resolved. Mr Macdonald might care to look at the letter to me from Mr Emery that is now lodged in SPICe. I believe that the matter will be resolved. Work is on-going.

That takes me to my second point, which relates to the position of the police service in Scotland. If we listened to Labour, we would believe that nothing is happening in the authority or the police service of Scotland other than the current issues between Mr House and Mr Emery. However, in fact, work is on-going. Four outstanding deputy chief constables have been appointed and recruitment of assistant chief constables is on-going. Whatever Margaret Mitchell suggests, the chief constable is doing good work to ensure that we get the right pyramid structure in Scotland.

Policing in Scotland is delivering. Labour seems to dispute the number of police officers in Scotland, and that is its right and entitlement. After all, as Christine Grahame, Colin Keir and others pointed out, south of the border, in the region of 16,000 police officers are to be lost. The Labour Party south of the border believes that that number is scandalous—it thinks that only 10,000 officers should be lost. We know that Labour is wedded to the Barnett formula, so I presume that Labour in Scotland would wish us to lose 1,000 officers. The Scottish Government will not countenance that.

Facts are chiels that winna ding. Labour members keep coming to the chamber and talking down the Scottish police service. Sadly for them, the statistics keep showing how outstanding the police service in Scotland is and how it is getting better. We have a record number of police officers. Notwithstanding Ms Marra’s dearest wish, there has even been an increase in the number of police back-office staff in the past quarter—how disappointed she must be. Recorded crime is at a 37-year low, and violent crime is at a 30-year low. Firearms offences have halved in number since we have come into office. The Scottish police service keeps delivering and the Government will keep investing in that police service.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I am in my final minute.

The statistics might not suit Labour’s desire to create press stories, but the press stories are out there and they are based on clear facts and evidence. A record number of police officers are delivering a safer, better Scotland, and the faith and belief of the people of Scotland have never been greater, notwithstanding some Opposition spokespeople.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

The fact that the SNP’s back benchers are much keener to address the botched police commissioner elections in England—an issue over which the Scottish Parliament has no jurisdiction—tells the whole story. The SNP does not want to address the difficult problems that our motion has raised.

With just under four months to go until the start of the new police service, today’s debate has highlighted some critical questions about the Government’s handling of the transition to Scotland’s single police force. We hoped that we would never have to seek the guarantees that our motion seeks today, especially at such a late stage in the process.

We are looking for clarification about the two most important roles in the new police service—who has responsibility over what?—and for guarantees that local officers will remain on our streets.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

The only outstanding matter is the line of accountable responsibility that the SPA chair is seeking. Does the member not accept that? What other aspect is she suggesting is still in dispute?

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

From the two speeches that I have heard from the cabinet secretary today, it seems that the HR and finance issues are the same ones that were under dispute when we took evidence from the chief constable and the chair last Tuesday morning. I hope that the committee’s deliberations and this afternoon’s debate will help their discussions to reach a conclusion on the issues of contention that still exist today.

In his opening remarks, the cabinet secretary spoke of record numbers of police officers on Scotland’s streets. However, as my Labour colleagues have pointed out, the reality of what is happening in police forces across Scotland is far removed from what he would have us believe. Scottish Labour has been warning the Government for months that its drive towards efficiency savings has created a culture of backroom bobbies. Backroom staff jobs have been shed and are being done by police officers who should be on our streets.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

The cabinet secretary is looking surprised and asking me where this is happening. We have been telling him for months that it is happening in police stations and control rooms in Tayside and up and down the country.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Does the member dispute the fact that HMICS has investigated the allegations of backfilling and found that the only instances of backfilling are in a limited number of situations in which pregnant police officers and male and female officers who have been injured cannot be put on front-line duties? Apart from that, HMICS is not aware of any instances of backfilling.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

According to Unison, this is going on in 53 per cent of the posts that have gone. It is going on with custody officers in the cabinet secretary’s constituency and in control rooms in Tayside. I suggest that he go out to police stations across the country and ask people on the ground whether it is happening. Audit Scotland has just confirmed to us that it is.

As far back as May this year, I highlighted to the cabinet secretary evidence from Unison that 900 police staff jobs had been lost and were now being done by police officers. In his response, he sought to deny the problem and then told me that it was an operational matter. When I raised the same issue at First Minister’s questions in October, the First Minister dismissed the claim as ”utter nonsense”, despite the fact that my evidence came from a leaked document prepared for his justice department by Kevin Smith, the head of the police reform sub-group. That evidence makes clear the new single service’s intention to cut police staff jobs in favour of officers doing administrative tasks themselves.

As I said, just last week, Audit Scotland published a report that said that each force has cut an average of 12 per cent of civilian posts to balance its budget. The report also says that

“at a time of continued financial pressures there is a risk that this” backfilling

“is not an efficient and sustainable use of resources if adopted longer term.”

We agree with Audit Scotland’s report, which confirms what we have articulated and heard for months. The lack of honesty from the SNP about its guarantee to put extra police officers on our streets is concerning and unsustainable and it must stop. The SNP’s fig-leaf figure of 65 more backroom staff does little to mask the 907 jobs that have been lost since March 2010 and the further 3,000 that Stephen House predicted will be lost in the future.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Ms Marra was a member of the Justice Committee when Chief Constable House made it clear to that committee that he had no intention of backfilling and that it would meet no purpose. Is she suggesting that he is a liar?

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

The cabinet secretary needs to look at the evidence for himself. I suggest that he goes out to his constituency, speaks to custody officers and trade unions and reads Audit Scotland’s report. He might then get an accurate reflection of what is going on in the police force in this country.

Hard-working police staff should not have their fate hidden in leaked documents from reform sub-groups or in Audit Scotland reports, only to have it denied by the First Minister and the cabinet secretary. That is why Scottish Labour has asked for a clear guarantee from the Government today that it will reverse its intention to backfill police staff jobs. We are disappointed that the cabinet secretary has chosen to ignore that in his amendment.

The need for clarity is why we brought the debate to Parliament. Nowhere is clarity more necessary than in the single police force’s leadership. From day 1, the public must have confidence that those who are in charge have an irreproachable mandate yet, as Lewis Macdonald said, we have reached the astonishing point at which our chief constable and the SPA’s chair are already seeking separate legal advice on their job descriptions.

We are all for “creative tension” between colleagues, which can help to establish better relationships and define responsibilities. However, it strikes me that, when that gets to the stage at which people feel that they must seek legal advice on their job descriptions, there might be a problem with the employer. I say to the cabinet secretary that we do not seek political interference, but the Government must act on behalf of Parliament, which agreed the important Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, by exercising ministerial accountability, not ministerial control.

The whole Parliament knows that my colleague Graeme Pearson has pushed for improved scrutiny of the single police service since the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill was introduced. He argued passionately for better scrutiny by Parliament of the chair and the chief constable and for a specialist commission that would deal swiftly with issues such as the one that has arisen. We are glad that a slightly watered-down version of his proposal has received cross-party support and we hope that it will be advanced as quickly as possible. Until that happens, it is the Government’s responsibility to facilitate a resolution to the conflict as quickly and efficiently as possible.