Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Scottish National Police Force lacks scrutiny says Labour MSP Graeme Pearson, former chief of SCDEA, SNP ruin great idea by lack of accountability
On the 4th September I attended the Scottish National Party’s National Assembly in Perth hosted by Nicola Sturgeon.
At that event the SNP were looking for ideas to improve Scotland and increase their chances for re-election.
I proposed the Scottish National Police Force and the Scottish National Fire Service.
In my proposal for the Police, I laid out in detail how the issue of accountability would be tackled which is a key objection of critics of the idea.
Now, the former head of Scotland's crime fighting agency has criticised the lack of accountability and governance proposed for Scotland's new single police force.
As much as it pains me my original idea has been tweaked badly.
In my original proposal, the current Police Boards would be kept as area boards and act as a feeder to a new national board which I have to be over 20 in size, this is because my proposal was a stage one reform. As well as area and national boards, a separate Holyrood committee would be formed as an oversight committee, cross party in nature and this was my triple lock to address the issue of accountability.
The New Chief Constable would retain complete operational control; however he would be answerable regarding his decisions, thus ensuring that power given could in the light of withdrawn in the event of serious misconduct.
The Justice Secretary would have no input into the appointment of the New Chief Constable by law and also they would never be in a position to rig the national board to do so.
Graeme Pearson is a Labour MSP and former head of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency; he says the legislation going through Parliament to amalgamate the country's eight police forces shows a worrying lack of "open and positive public scrutiny".
He is right, by having Kenny’s 11 take over the board there has been a disastrous policy made; only recently the Scottish Government had to guarantee four councillors would serve on the new board.
That wasn’t in the legislation, so early on accountability and transparency wasn’t a primary issue until people complained.
Many people don’t like the way that centralism has taken root in the SNP Government that has created tunnel vision instead of real vision.
Les Gray, the outgoing head of the Scottish Police Federation has warned against the proposed timetable to appoint the new chief constable in January 2013 and has criticised the current lack of answers about governance and VAT.
Writing in The Herald letters page, Pearson warns the proposals for the new single police force are "undemocratic" and lacking in accountability.
"Across Scotland we have the opportunity now to deliver a proper public scrutiny of the oversight of policing at national level and accountability at the local level.
"But the SNP Government seem determined to maintain a service authority arrangement largely chosen by the minister, with a convener and chief constable reporting via civil servants to the minister before eventually Parliament's involvement. This is not a healthy situation for the future.
"A single Scottish police force will be a powerful body to be managed without an open and positive public scrutiny. What the civil servants have delivered is a model created to control and influence, particularly in relation to budget and policy. In a model maintained by, and on behalf of, government there is little encouragement to challenge wrong thinking or reveal wrong doing.
"These proposals are undemocratic, designed for the comfort of the executive at a cost in terms of parliamentary scrutiny. They are therefore debilitating to genuine accountability."
It is what it is, the truth, the Police are there to serve the people, it is a service, somewhere down the line the SNP Government has come to the conclusion that the Police is their private law enforcement body.
Like an independent judiciary is recognised as essential, an independent police service is equally critical in a democratic society because people must have faith in their police.
Look what happened in London were relations between public and police collapsed cause a ‘us and them’ situation developed. The damage of that open wound has never completely been healed. This is better now, but should never have gotten to that state in the first place down there.
Issues relating to VAT are needed to be dealt with, with answers surprisingly not forthcoming from the SNP Government, this shows that they are governing by events rather than being proactive to address problems ahead of time.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said:
"Our plans for police reform have been informed by two consultations and more than a year of regular and sustained engagement with police, ACPOS, boards, local authorities, political parties and others.
"All criminal investigations will continue to be independently directed by the Lord Advocate and Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner will ensure that, where necessary, investigations of the police are carried out by an independent body.
"The Bill will follow the standard Parliamentary timetable and our plans will ensure the new Police Service of Scotland is subject to more formal and routine scrutiny by Parliament than the current eight forces. Meanwhile, the appointment of SPA members will be regulated by the Public Appointments Commissioner."
All that and they still aren’t listening.
Rather than getting the new national force set up properly and working, the Scottish Government has set up a dysfunctional body that lacks accountability and transparency.
Stage one of my national police force ideas was the creation of the body, thus allowing and preparing the ground for stage two reforms.
The national police force was a stepping stone to a major overhaul of law enforcement in Scotland, by taking a part of my idea and changing it for the worst, stage two must now be shelved as there is no point in having that debate now.
Alex Salmond says the Scottish Government doesn’t have a monopoly on wisdom, how very right he is on that score; this is what I mean by saying that although there are clever people in the SNP, there are also a lot of stupid ones being listened to.
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University