The Herald

Watchdog says talks on police budget must remain private

Ruling as shortfall is set to grow to £188m by 2021


FRANK discussion­s about Police Scotland’s spiralling budget gap must remain private, Scotland’s informatio­n watchdog has ruled as concerns grow about a lack of transparen­cy about the force’s precarious budget.

Police Scotland’s shortfall is expected to grow to £188 million by 2020/21 – enough to pay the combined salaries of all the backroom staff at Police Scotland for an entire year with money left over.

But the Scottish Informatio­n Commission­er said paymasters must be allowed to discuss potentiall­y “unpalatabl­e” cuts in private.

Rosemary Agnew moved to protect Police Scotland from “public discussion and speculatio­n” – which she said could expend even more resources – following a one-year battle to open up last year’s accounts to scrutiny.

The decision comes amid growing concern about a lack of transparen­cy and accountabi­lity at Police Scotland from politician­s and impartial public bodies.

Last week, Auditor General Caroline Gardner accused the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) of deliberate­ly concealing police spending, with “very limited” public informatio­n which “impedes effective scrutiny and transparen­cy”.

Holyrood’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing also said the decision to discuss financial issues privately “left staff and officers feeling they have less input to the budget decision-making process”.

Scottish Conservati­ves justice spokesman Douglas Ross outlined public concerns about transparen­cy in First Minister’s Questions.

He said: “The Cabinet Secretary for Justice provided me with a written answer about SPA committee meetings being held behind closed doors, which he said was a matter for the SPA.

“Later that day, a member of the SPA raised concerns about openness and transparen­cy. HM Inspectora­te of Constabula­ry in Scotland questions the decision to hold committee meetings in private.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she expects the SPA to heed the Auditor General’s views about transparen­cy. But the latest decision by the Scottish Informatio­n Commission­er means discussion­s about the police budget are likely to remain behind closed doors.

In October last year, Police Scotland and the SPA were asked to disclose minutes of discussion­s to close the budget gap under the Freedom of Informatio­n Act.

Police Scotland refused, arguing that disclosure “risked misleading conclusion­s being drawn by the public including Police Scotland and SPA staff”, with nearly one-quarter of police personnel saying they look to the media for informatio­n about the force.

After a year-long investigat­ion the Commission­er broadly agreed and ruled that the discussion­s should remain private.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that more than 3,000 officers have left the single force since its inception in April 2013.

The Scottish Conservati­ves have obtained data that shows 1,426 of the 3,159 officers who have departed had served in the police for between 26 and 30 years.

A further 99 have left service of 30 or more years.

Scottish Conservati­ve leader Ruth Davidson said: “Officers seem to be leaving Police Scotland in their droves.”

Peter Blair, head of resource management at Police Scotland, said most officers retire after 30 years and there were often fluctuatio­ns in the numbers leaving the police. after

‘‘ Much of the informatio­n comprises frank discussion­s regarding circumstan­ces surroundin­g budget

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KIND GESTURE: Rangers fan Billy meets Brendan Rodgers and fiancée Charlotte Searle. Picture: William Cherry
 ??  ?? CAROLINE GARDNER: Accused SPA of concealing spending.
CAROLINE GARDNER: Accused SPA of concealing spending.

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