Scotland politics

Call for greater council role in Scottish local policing

Image caption Reform Scotland said the creation of the single police force was "a mistake"

A think tank has called for a greater role for councils in Scottish policing in a bid to increase local accountability.

Reform Scotland put together a briefing paper based on its response to a government consultation on strategies for the country's police force.

It called for the return of council funding for the police along with reforms to local government.

The government said police should not be accountable to politicians.

A spokesman said the police were held to account by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), not ministers, "protecting their ability to serve without political interference".

And the SPA said a recent review had concluded that the current governance model was the right one.

'Re-inject localism'

The think tank based its Reinventing Local Policing briefing on its submission to the Scottish government's draft strategic police priorities for Scotland consultation.

The group campaigned against the creation of the single police force due to concerns about a loss of local control, but welcomed the new "emphasis placed on localism and accountability" by the Scottish government.

The briefing highlighted three areas where "more must be done to re-inject localism into policing".

  • Funding: Prior to the foundation of Police Scotland, local authorities contributed 50% of police funding, and Reform Scotland want to see this reinstated.
  • Governance: The think tank want each council to nominate a representative to the Scottish Police Authority.
  • Local government reform: The SNP has pledged to review the structure of local government, and Reform Scotland said this should be done before reforming the police force, saying "the horse must be put before the cart".

Research director Alison Payne said the think tank - which has previously called for the number of councils to be cut - was pleased with the government's stated priorities, but voiced concerns about their delivery.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Scottish government said it was right that police are accountable to communities not politicians

She said: "Reform Scotland opposed the creation of Police Scotland for the very reasons which have gradually been identified as problems, mainly the lack of local accountability. We are therefore pleased that the Scottish government has placed an emphasis on localism and accountability in its draft priorities.

"However, we remain concerned that, under the current centralised structure, there is no obvious way to actually make localism happen.

"For that reason, we have proposed that both the funding and governance structure must change. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and on that principle we believe that local authorities should again be responsible for funding 50% of policing, with the Scottish Government continuing to fund the other 50%.

"Furthermore, we believe that each local authority should be able to nominate a member of the Scottish Police Authority to ensure that local priorities are adequately represented.

"The creation of Police Scotland was a mistake, and in the absence of any further wholesale reform we all have a responsibility to make the smaller changes which can help re-create local policing."

'Inevitable challenges'

The Scottish government insisted that the "long-standing principle" of police being accountable to the SPA and communities rather than politicians was the right one.

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

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

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

A spokeswoman for the SPA defended the current model of governance, saying it had been backed in the body's review published in March.

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

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

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