A committee of MSPs should be set up to oversee Scotland’s emergency services in a bid to end the “incestuous relationship” that can exist between ministers and senior officers, Labour’s review of policing has concluded.
Justice spokesman Graeme Pearson, a former director general of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, conducted his own investigations in Police Scotland after the force was hit by a series of controversies.
While he backed Scotland having a single police force, he said the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) – the body set up to oversee Police Scotland – had “failed in its role”.
Mr Pearson claimed the SPA had been “good ambulance-chasers after the events but they haven’t been to the fore in questioning the chief constable on the options” such as the deployment of armed officers and controversial stop-and-search practices.
His review also said the Scottish Government “failed to ensure that the hand-picked board of the SPA were aware of their role and were equipped to carry it out”.
Ministers also appear “to have failed to understand or has wilfully ignored the importance of ensuring the relationships” between Police Scotland, the SPA, the Scottish Parliament, ministers and others, so they all “work together to deliver an efficient and effective police service”.
The review added: “As a result, we have witnessed a series of fudged outcomes, soft commentaries and reviews plainly designed to avoid the realities of what has gone wrong.”
Publishing the review, Mr Pearson said: “What comes out very strongly is our Scottish police family is broken. The chasm that has opened up between support staff and police officers is very significant.”
It makes 10 recommendations for change, including the need for parliamentary oversight of all emergency services and the need for resources to meet local need.
It also called for a “more robust SPA”, with Mr Pearson saying: “I’m blue in the face talking about the SPA and their inability to hold this organisation to account.”
Police Scotland is a “service we should be proud of,” the Labour MSP said as he highlighted the need to “invest in it in terms of making sure they get the right management and oversight from the authority and the government”.
He argued: “I think the Parliament is the mechanism by which we should ensure that the incestuous relationship which can sometimes exist between a cabinet secretary, a board and a chief constable, that we remove that incestuous relationship and let fresh air get into the system.”