Scotland politics

Stephen House warns of 'major' flaw in police reform legislation

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Media captionStephen House told MSPs he took legal advice after being alerted to the concerns

The head of Scotland's new national police force has raised concerns over a "gobsmacking major problem" with the legislation to set up the service.

Stephen House told MSPs he had been advised that it may not allow him to control police support staff.

The new police force will begin operating on 1 April, 2013, when the eight existing regional forces are merged.

Ministers want to cut costs without hitting frontline policing.

Mr House, the former chief constable of Strathclyde Police, made his comments as he gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament's justice committee.

He also predicted that the concerns would be resolved quickly, while the government insisted responsibilities under the new structure had been clearly set out.

On the issue of the remit of his new job, he said: "I did get legal advice.

"I did it after a conversation with the Strathclyde lead lawyer, because he alerted me to his concerns about the Act in a specific area.

"He didn't believe that the Act allowed the authority to delegate to me control over support staff, which is clearly a bit of a gobsmacking major problem with legislation as far as I was concerned."

Mr House said he had been in talks with Vic Emery, the chairman of the new Scottish Police Authority, over who should have day-to-day control over human resources and finance.

The chief constable wants them under his supervision at the new police HQ, while Mr Emery has argued they should remain closer to the civilian structure.

Mr House said: "In a couple of key areas we're struggling with it, but we're not hiding that.

"My view is, if it goes on a lot longer it starts to become negative - but, actually, I don't think it's been happening that long and we're very close to what it's actually going to look like with HR and finance on a day-to-day basis."

Mr House predicted the problems would be resolved at the next Scottish Police Authority meeting on 5 December.

Mr Emery has also taken legal advice on his role and responsibilities and both he and Mr House said the information would be presented to the committee.

Mr Emery told the committee: "We are going through this debate because we have to get it right from the beginning, and I have no doubt in my mind that I hold Steve responsible for the policing of Scotland and all that that entails."

'Total confusion'

Labour MSP Graeme Pearson, the former head of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, said: "This is a shambles of the highest order and to watch the total confusion today in front of MSPs was bizarre, particularly given there are only four months left to build the new service."

A Scottish government spokesman said: "All staff will transfer to the Scottish Police Authority, and all police staff will be under the direction and control of the chief constable of the police service of Scotland.

"This is consistent with current arrangements, with police staff employed by Boards or Authorities and under the direction of the chief constable.

"Our legislation clearly sets out the roles and responsibilities of the chief constable and the chair."

The new national police force is being established under the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act, which will also see the merger of fire and rescue services.

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