The Public Audit Committee has published a report on police reform. The report covers many of the concerns that UNISON raised at the time the Bill and the subsequent merger was rushed through.
A key UNISON concern was the lack of a full business case before the Bill was passed. Despite promising such a document it was never produced and instead was merged into a short term financial strategy. As the Committee says:
“The Committee considers that by not developing a full business case neither the Scottish Government, Police Scotland nor the SPA were able to comprehensively test the accuracy of the projected costs and savings in the outline business case following parliamentary agreement to the Bill.”
Longer term savings are only now being identified and the report says:
“the SPA and Police Scotland had not yet agreed a financial strategy (as at November 2013) to demonstrate how savings will be achieved after 2013/14”
Another key UNISON concern was that the structure chosen by the Scottish Government meant that Police Scotland would be unable to recover VAT. Again we have been proven correct as the report says:
“previously the eight police forces were able to recover VAT but that from 2013/14 a VAT liability of approximately £22 million will be required to be met each year by Police Scotland and the SPA. The Committee heard that part of the funding for police reform of £147 million was to be used to meet the additional VAT costs arising from the creation of a single police service. The Scottish Government had not yet decided whether it would meet the VAT costs of Police Scotland and the SPA from 2015/16.”
There are several other critical comments in the report, although the SNP majority on the committee has watered down criticisms of the Scottish Government. Publishing their own stronger version yesterday, MSPs Hugh Henry, Ken Macintosh, Tavish Scott and Mary Scanlon said it was not their job to put out a “flattering interpretation.”
An example of this is:
“The Committee notes the AGS comments that a lessons learned review on police reform which has been already undertaken by the Scottish Government focussed on what went well rather than what did not work effectively.”
The minority report adds, “The Committee therefore seeks confirmation from the Scottish Government that its post implementation review will scrutinise what worked well as well as not so well.”
The Committee Convenor Hugh Henry MSP said, “There’s a cult developing here of obedience and slavishness which some governments and regimes elsewhere in the world would be proud to have, and it’s unfortunate we’re seeing this in 21st-century Scotland.”
While the minority report is stronger, even the watered down version confirms the warnings UNISON gave at the time over the lack of a robust business strategy.