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