Policing

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10th November 2015.

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Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Matheson on policing. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I welcome this early opportunity to update Parliament following the publication today of “Independent Assurance Review Police Scotland—Call Handling Final Report”, which I directed Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland to undertake three months ago.

I start by once again offering sincere condolences to the families of John Yuill and Lamara Bell for the tragic loss that they have suffered.

I have previously highlighted my belief that the foundations of policing are strong. That is reinforced by the latest statistics, which show that recorded crime is at a 41-year low, supported by the 1,000 extra officers that this Government has delivered. Of course, the credit goes to the hard-working officers and staff across Scotland who regularly put themselves in situations that many of us would not put ourselves in.

However, there is more to be done, which is why the programme for government set out a series of measures to strengthen policing. In September, I held a summit to support further development of local scrutiny, and more than 80 stakeholders attended. The chair of the Scottish Police Authority has already begun his review of police governance, which is on track to report in March 2016. We will shortly embark on a refresh of the strategic police priorities, giving communities the chance to have their say. In addition, the process to appoint a new chief constable is well advanced, and the chair of the Scottish Police Authority has set out a clear expectation that the new chief will put a strong focus on addressing issues that were highlighted in the recent staff survey.

I want to spend my time today focusing on the HMICS report that was published this morning. I thank Her Majesty’s inspector, Derek Penman, and his staff for their work. This comprehensive piece of work has involved more engagement than any previous HMICS review, and included a public online questionnaire, an audit of calls and more than 85 interviews and 34 group discussions with police officers and staff.

Police Scotland contact, command and control centres manage 500,000 999 calls and 3.24 million 101 calls a year. The HMICS report provides a number of welcome assurances. Staff levels are now stabilised at Bilston Glen, Motherwell and Govan, and staff are committed to providing a good service to the public. Grading, prioritisation and dispatch of officers work well for emergency and high-priority calls. Risk and vulnerability assessment is also strong within the area control room environment. New training is now in place for all new staff, and the interim information and communications technology solution that is in place is fit for purpose.

The report contains 30 recommendations: Police Scotland has assured me that it will implement all of them. The report confirms that significant progress has already been made, but gives the SPA and Police Scotland clear direction on where further improvements are needed. Those areas include programme management and governance, staff communication, training, technology and quality assurance. I will deal with each of those in turn.

First, the report contains a series of criticisms of the programme management and governance that were in place around the restructuring programme. Although performance is now stabilised, it is essential that those issues be addressed before the remaining phases of the change programme are progressed. I have discussed that with Andrew Flanagan, the chair of the SPA, and with Police Scotland, and they have confirmed that independent experts will be brought in to provide strong assurances before any decision is made on implementation of proposed changes to the Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness centres. They have further confirmed that Police Scotland will establish a reference group of senior independent change and call-handling professionals who will provide on-going oversight and advice as the restructuring process progresses.

The report also highlights concern about how staff expertise was captured in designing the change, and it echoes findings from the Police Scotland staff survey around communication and engagement. I have made clear to Police Scotland my expectations in respect of that recommendation, and my strong conviction that investment in staff is as important as—if not more important than—investment in systems. To address that, Police Scotland has confirmed that it will establish a programme that is dedicated to shaping the future of C3, which will support clear and transparent engagement with all affected staff from here on. I am encouraged that Police Scotland has now put in place a training programme for all new entrants, which will improve consistency across the country.

On technology, the report concludes that the interim solution is generally fit for purpose, but that poor reliability and the ability to bypass certain aspects of the system pose risks. Police Scotland plans to invest £15 million in a new information technology solution, which will be a major step forward and will, I am assured, be subject to the stronger programme management approach that is now in place. I have also been assured that Police Scotland has already put in place new processes to monitor compliance with procedures.

The need to ensure strong quality assurance is the final theme that I will touch on. Since April, the SPA has continued to monitor performance on a weekly basis. In the future, any dip in performance such as was experienced in Bilston Glen earlier this year will become quickly apparent and will trigger rapid intervention. The report confirms that a regional approach to call handling can deliver an effective service for communities across Scotland. The overall direction of the programme therefore remains fit for purpose, but management of the change programme must be strengthened.

Although I welcome the assurances that are provided by the HMICS report on quality of customer service, call handling and grading, I want to ensure that those standards are maintained and that Police Scotland delivers the required improvements. I have therefore asked HMICS to undertake a further programme of unannounced visits to call centres across the country. That programme will begin with immediate effect and will continue until the restructuring is complete. I have requested that the outcome of those visits be reported back to Police Scotland, the SPA and me, with any actions that need to be taken being clearly identified.

The report acknowledges that the Scottish Government acted swiftly on the recommendation in the interim report by making £1.4 million of new money available. That has already supported an active recruitment campaign in the north, which has attracted significant interest. The new money is also being used to deliver improved system reliability.

I will close by stressing once again this Government’s commitment to ensuring that the public can have confidence in police contact, command and control functions. That is why I directed HMICS to undertake a review, and it is why I sought the earliest opportunity to update Parliament on its final report. The report includes some hard messages for Police Scotland, and I have been assured that all 30 recommendations will be accepted and actioned by it. The report provides confidence that staffing levels have stabilised in the east and west and that calls are being answered and actioned. New training is in place for all new staff, and recruitment to support the next stages of restructuring in the north is actively under way.

HMICS has provided assurance about the capability of the regional model, and both the SPA and Police Scotland will ensure that independent checks are in place to monitor contact, command and control centres from now on and to oversee the next stages of the restructuring.

As I said in September, there are challenges, but the fundamentals of our police service are sound. The actions that I have set out today will build on those fundamentals to deliver a stronger service. Be assured that this Government will continue to work tirelessly to strengthen policing in Scotland even further.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues raised in his statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes for questions, after which we will move to the next item of business.

The minister has already expressed his condolences to the families of John Yuill and Lamara Bell, and I know that his sentiments are shared by all members across the chamber. I am advised that the case is now a live investigation, so I will take no further references to the particular circumstances of that tragic case. Questions should therefore relate to the report on police call handling and the minister’s statement.

Photo of Graeme Pearson Graeme Pearson Labour

I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for sight of the statement prior to his making it.

Even in the language of management speak and acronyms, the HMICS report is damning. The report refers to weaknesses on 20 occasions. Two years since Police Scotland was formed, we are still seeing systemic failures in important aspects of policing. The report boasts of savings of £1.8 million on policing while admitting that the force had to spend an additional £1.4 million on overtime. That is a massive failure of strategic management. The report uses the word “assurance” on 103 occasions, but we have had numerous assurances on policing that have come to nothing.

The litany of failures that are listed in the report is extraordinary. It finds that the information technology systems offer only “basic functionality” and are of questionable stability. It identifies a lack of resources for front-line staff, weak local management and inadequate oversight of call centre rationalisation. It says that the SPA and Police Scotland have taken a “narrow approach” to the scrutiny of major projects and that there is no framework to measure the stated benefits. It finds that key staff on the project board are lacking in experience and training. It identifies a lack of staff, with those who are there reporting low morale. Forty-one per cent of the officers and civilian staff who responded to HMICS’s survey spoke negatively about the 101 service. Many improvements are needed.

On 12 July this year, the cabinet secretary blamed the M9 tragedy on an “individual failure” rather than on a lack of resources. We now know that to be completely false. Will he now—

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

Can we just get to the question, Mr Pearson?

Photo of Graeme Pearson Graeme Pearson Labour

Will he now apologise to the Bell and Yuill families—

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

Please sit down, Mr Pearson.

Cabinet secretary, would you like to address Mr Pearson’s other points?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Mr Pearson made reference to a number of points in the report. The important issue is that the very reason for directing HMICS to undertake the review was to provide us with assurance on the process that Police Scotland had in place for managing the change around the call centres. The 30 recommendations that are set out in the report are absolutely key—

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

We will wait until the minister has finished his answer before I take your point of order, Mr Findlay.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

—to making sure that the lessons from the management of this particular area of the restructuring are learned and that the same mistakes are not made again.

What is now important is that Police Scotland implements every aspect of the recommendations that HMICS has set out. To make sure that that happens, no further steps in the reform programme on the restructuring of the call centres will be taken until all the necessary assurances have been put in place. That will be checked by not only the SPA but HMICS before any further steps are taken in this area of restructuring.

I am determined to make sure that Police Scotland builds on the progress that it has made in recent months on improving the situation within the call centres to make sure that the public can have confidence that when they contact Police Scotland their call will be dealt with appropriately and as quickly and effectively as possible.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

I will now take Mr Findlay’s point of order.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

Thank you, Presiding Officer. These are very important issues that every one of us has constituents speaking to us about. The minister has just had longer to reply than Mr Pearson had to ask his question—and Mr Pearson did not have the opportunity to finish that question. I would hope that we could be a bit more tolerant in the chamber and allow the lead spokesman for the Opposition to have his say on what are, after all, extremely serious matters.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

Mr Findlay, I am well aware of the seriousness of these matters. Every Opposition spokesperson knows how long they are expected to speak for, and that is one minute and 30 seconds. I stopped Mr Pearson from going further because I had explicitly said only moments before that I wanted no references to that particular tragic case because it is a live issue.

Now, we move on to Margaret Mitchell. Ms Mitchell, you have one minute.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his statement.

This is a report full of management speak that nonetheless reveals a system in chaos, summed up by one of the key findings—namely that the current C3 performance framework lacks detail on quality of service, cost and outcomes. That deficiency has resulted in a huge disconnect between what is happening in practice and what should be happening in theory, through—it should be stressed—absolutely no fault of the call handlers themselves.

The report is peppered with overly optimistic, unjustifiable comments about improvements already made. My question therefore is this: given that we have heard all these assurances uttered by the cabinet secretary before and restated today, what possible confidence can the general public have that call handling in Scotland is fit for purpose to ensure that history is not repeated?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I know that members may wish to question the way in which Police Scotland has taken forward the remodelling and restructuring of its call handling system, but I must say that I am somewhat surprised that a member would seek to attack the inspector of constabulary for producing such a detailed report into the matter. I do not think that that serves anybody’s interests when looking at this particular issue.

The report highlights a range of areas where Police Scotland has not addressed sufficiently how it should have taken forward the change management and the reassurance that was necessary in taking forward that level of change. The report also identifies areas where there have been improvements in how Police Scotland is dealing with calls. I would have thought that any reasonable member would have welcomed the fact that Police Scotland has improved the way in which it is handling some of those calls and that the HMICS report provides us with clear reassurance on how that is being taken forward.

What we now need to do is make sure that, in areas where Police Scotland has identified deficiencies in its management of the change, improvements are taken forward. However, I do not think that bringing into question the quality of the inspection undertaken by the inspectorate does anybody a service.

Photo of Roderick Campbell Roderick Campbell Scottish National Party

Can the cabinet secretary provide further information on the impact of the additional £1.4 million of funding provided to Police Scotland following HMICS’s interim report?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

One of the actions that we took after the interim report was published in September was to provide immediately additional financial support to Police Scotland in order to allow it to take forward the interim recommendation that was set out by HMICS at that particular point.

That money supported Police Scotland in being able to accelerate the recruitment of staff in Dundee as well as increase the numbers of staff that it has in its virtual service centre in anticipation of the additional workload to deal with the future change in the system. It has also allowed Police Scotland to take forward some further work on providing stability around its IT system. I expect progress to continue to be made on that work.

In addition, a recruitment campaign in the north of the country has attracted significant interest in working in the Dundee area control room. Recruitment has also allowed Police Scotland to provide additional staff for its virtual control rooms in Govan in Glasgow, in Motherwell and in Bilston Glen.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

It is a shocking indictment of the Scottish Government that there were tragic deaths before the problems at police call centres were taken seriously. There was no acceptance from the minister in his statement that the Government ignored the warnings, paid little heed to the complaints from hard-working staff throughout the country and brushed aside my pleas in the Parliament.

The report is powerful. Does the minister regret not ordering the inquiry sooner? Will he finally agree to a fuller inquiry into the whole of Police Scotland?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Mr Rennie, in making the point that he raised the issue in Parliament, has given the impression that no action was taken following his comments. I specifically raised the matters with the chief constable and with Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick and Assistant Chief Constable Val Thomson, who all have lead policy responsibility in this particular area. That resulted in changes in the way in which they were managing the restructuring of the call centres.

I refer Willie Rennie specifically to the findings in the HMICS report, which clearly states that significant action was taken early in the year to address a number of the issues that were raised in Parliament and the concerns that were raised with Police Scotland.

The HMICS executive summary makes particular reference to those concerns. It is clear that the issues around poor performance were identified early in 2015—as outlined at paragraph 29—and that, as a result, there has been stronger engagement and oversight from the SPA regarding evidence in those areas. The report highlights the improvements in internal governance since the spring, including the introduction of weekly reporting to address some of the issues.

I am not saying that everything has been sorted; the HMICS report identifies that further work is required. However, it is factually wrong for Willie Rennie to suggest that nothing happened from the point at which he raised the matter—indeed, HMICS has identified the improvements that occurred as a result. I welcome those improvements and the recommendations in the report, and we will build on that progress to further address the issues.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

The HMICS report states that

“Staff engagement and consultation by Police Scotland during the C3IR project could have been more effective”; that initial levels of C3 staffing were insufficient; and that the

“address ‘look up’ gazetteer and Police Scotland internal directory do not fully meet operational requirements.”

Staff in the Dumfries control room and their trade unions raised those very issues when the closure of the control room was announced in January 2014, but the previous cabinet secretary drove past and would not even speak to them. Why were the views of experienced staff ignored? What has the Scottish Government learned from those mistakes?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I will deal with the two valid issues that Elaine Murray raises—first, the difficulties that the contact, command and control call centres are having at present with the police gazetteer system. The HMICS report highlights that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Scottish Ambulance Service each have a gazetteer system, and it recommends that we should look at bringing the three systems together to provide a much more comprehensive system for delivering blue-light services in Scotland. I intend to ensure that that recommendation is progressed across those services.

As I said in my statement, there is an issue in that staff feel that Police Scotland did not engage with them properly in taking forward the reform. Too much of the process was dealt with by email and through the internet, and that is not acceptable.

I have made it very clear to Police Scotland that investing in staff is as important as—if not more important than—investing in IT systems. I want to ensure that the issues that the report highlights and the recommendations for addressing them, alongside the findings from the Police Scotland staff survey, are all addressed so that staff are much more effectively engaged in the process.

The mechanism that Police Scotland is putting in place will assist staff to support that work. I want to see improvements in the areas that the member has highlighted to make sure that the valued voices of members of staff in Police Scotland can be heard and listened to.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I have a supplementary question on the gazetteer and recommendation 19. Will the cabinet secretary, as a matter of urgency, ensure that a bespoke emergency services address gazetteer for Scotland is dealt with? Paragraph 294 of the report states:

“staff told us that the internal directory was inaccurate, poor quality, inconsistent and of limited use.”

That is some indictment. That is a simple matter that should be remedied as soon as possible.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

As the member will recognise, access to up-to-date information, particularly local knowledge, is absolutely vital for those in our emergency services. As the report rightly highlights, it would be prudent to consider greater collaboration and the development of a purpose-built emergency gazetteer. The report also recognises that development work is being done on different elements of our emergency services.

I will direct my officials to make sure that there is now collaboration across the blue-light services in developing a Scotland-specific gazetteer that can be used right across our emergency services in Scotland.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

In September, the cabinet secretary held a summit with stakeholders to discuss the development of local scrutiny of policing. What steps will the cabinet secretary take to further strengthen local scrutiny of Scottish policing in the future?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

That issue has been raised with me on a number of occasions. As I said in my statement, on 23 September I held a summit on scrutiny, which included members of the SPA, Police Scotland and local authorities. The next steps will be to explore the detail for improvements that have resulted from that discussion. In the coming months, the Scottish Government will work with the SPA, Police Scotland and our partners, particularly those within local authorities, to take forward those improvements.

We will also take forward our intention to review the national policing priorities. That will strengthen local policing and community engagement. Members of the public, communities and local police scrutiny committees will have an opportunity to discuss and develop the priorities when we publish them in the coming weeks.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

The cabinet secretary talked of bringing in independent experts before any step was taken to close the control rooms in Aberdeen and Inverness. Will those experts be free to recommend that the Aberdeen and Inverness control rooms should not close if they judge that that is the best way to assure a high-quality service for the future? If not, what does the term “independent experts” actually mean?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The HMICS report does not say that the end model that has been set out by Police Scotland should not be pursued. It states that it can offer the intended service.

The purpose of the independent experts is to provide a gateway review and assurances. When Police Scotland produces its final proposals for the changes in the north of the country, they will go to independent experts to be assured that everything that is necessary to facilitate those changes can be taken forward—that all the necessary assurances are in place. The second part of that is the independent expertise that will be fed into Police Scotland by those who are expert in this type of change management.

The end model is still the approach that is being taken by Police Scotland. However, safeguards will be put in place to make sure that, before the final stage is taken forward in the north, independent expertise has been fed into Police Scotland and the SPA before they agree to the final sign-off.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Independent

I thank Mr Penman for his report and the cabinet secretary for early sight of it.

I want to pick up on Mr Macdonald’s point because my attention was also drawn to the fact that

“independent experts will be brought in to provide strong assurances”.

Language is very important and to me, as well as to many others, that reads as though decisions have been made and experts will be brought in to confirm a predetermined decision.

I read the report as being further evidence for the interim report, which suggested to me that there is a compelling need to retain Aberdeen, Inverness and Dundee call centres. Will the cabinet secretary ensure that Unison is at the forefront of meaningful consultations about this, and that nothing is predetermined?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

As the member will be aware, the report does not recommend that the final model should not be pursued or that that model cannot deliver the type of service that Police Scotland intends to achieve. The intended model, which is the end point that Police Scotland wants to get to with its call centre arrangements, is still its direction of travel.

The independent expertise will put in place additional safeguards before any further steps can be taken in moving to the closure of any other control rooms at present. There will be an independent process of scrutiny to provide assurance that all the necessary steps have been taken before that change can take place.

The member asked about Unison. I welcome the statement that Unison issued today, which welcomed the report. I am disappointed that others have not welcomed the report. Unison welcomed the report and the progress that has been made in improving the situation in the call centres. I have made it clear that I expect good engagement to take place with all stakeholders as the process moves forward, including important stakeholders such as Unison, which represents many of the staff in the Police Scotland control rooms.

I assure the member that Police Scotland has been left in no doubt about the need to ensure that there is good, effective engagement with the staff side in addressing those issues.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

Does the cabinet secretary agree that any individual who has raised a formal complaint about police call handling since the beginning of July should be sent a copy of the Police Scotland report that was published this morning and offered an opportunity to discuss its contents at the appropriate juncture to enable the relationship between those individuals and the police to be rebuilt, strengthened and deepened? I think that that would go some way towards helping the process move along.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

HMICS has made provision to provide copies of the report to a number of individuals who have had some contact with it regarding how the police have handled certain issues around control rooms and the dispatching of police resources. If the member is aware of any other individuals who have not received a copy of the report, I would be more than happy to ensure that they receive a copy at the earliest opportunity.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

Thank you. That ends the cabinet secretary’s statement. I apologise to the two members whom I did not have time to call.