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A Consultation on the Future of Policing in Scotland


Current Context - Future Challenges

The current structure

20. The current structure of eight police forces in Scotland dates from 1975 when local government was regionalised. The forces vary substantially in terms of population served, area covered and resources available. Strathclyde Police serves a mixed urban and rural population of over 2.2 million people; the population served by Dumfries and Galloway Police is less than 150,000 people. The size of the geographical area covered by a force varies between 531 and 12,000 square miles, and the number of police officers in a force ranges from 507 to 8,382.

21. The eight forces are broken down into 27 police divisions across Scotland. The size of these divisions varies greatly from around 120 police officers in the smallest division to 1,380 officers in the largest. They are commanded by a chief superintendent, a superintendent or in some cases a chief inspector. Some local divisions are more than twice the size of our smallest police forces; and some chief superintendents lead a police officer workforce equivalent in size to that led by chief constables in other parts of Scotland.


Number of police officers 5

Number of police support staff

Population 6

Area (sq. miles)

Dumfries & Galloway Constabulary





Central Scotland Police





Lothian & Borders Police





Fife Constabulary





Strathclyde Police





Northern Constabulary





Grampian Police





Tayside Police







Scottish Police Services Authority



Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency



22. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland ( HMICS) has identified some of the challenges inevitably created by these significant variations in size and resources. Smaller forces are unable to afford capacity and capability in all policing specialisms, and to do so would be inefficient. In turn, this has led to ad-hoc, informal sharing of resources. However, HMICS found these collaborations are not well documented and often sit outside any system of governance by police authorities or the Scottish Government 7. The Scottish Government wants to see a more transparent and efficient way of providing equal access to policing services across Scotland.

23. The unequal size of Scottish police forces has another effect. As budget reductions take effect, forces will rightly try to protect the frontline and reduce spending on headquarters ( HQ) and support functions first. But small forces have less scope for doing this. To maintain their existence as an independent force, they need to protect the core corporate and HQ functions, which are fairly small to start with. The risk is that such forces may be forced to cut the frontline to a proportionately greater extent than larger ones. And the effect of that is that in some parts of Scotland - those served by a small police force - communities could get a lesser policing service than elsewhere, purely because of the structure of our police service.

New threats and a changed world

24. The threats we face in the second decade of the 21 st century differ from those we faced in the past. Improvements in transport and technology have brought great benefits to businesses and individuals. They have enabled policing to be more mobile, and more sophisticated. However, they have also brought new opportunities for criminals who seek to use technology and easier transport to profit at the expense of hard-working people. New threats have also emerged - serious organised crime, international terrorism, complex fraud, e-crime, and people trafficking. These threats reach across police force and national boundaries and require a sophisticated policing response. Criminals have no respect for boundaries, and crime patterns reflect this.

25. Dealing with the challenge of crime which crosses force boundaries can be difficult with eight separate police forces. Moves have been made to address this challenge, with national organisations such as the Scottish Police Services Authority ( SPSA) and the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency ( SCDEA). ACPOS works hard to achieve consistency of policy and practice between police forces. However, these structures bring their own complexity and require a multitude of working relationships and processes within and between the eight forces.

26. The lack of a single mechanism at national level to agree priorities, manage national risks, and monitor Best Value, was criticised in the Independent Review of Policing carried out by HMICS in 2009 8. As noted above, the obstacles to swift and easy access for every force to specialist policing services and expertise in areas like firearms, major crime and serious organised crime were also highlighed. Arrangements for collaboration between forces to share resources were found to be ad-hoc and uncoordinated 9.

A more complex contribution, and greater need for local engagement

27. The 1967 Police Act sets out the role of the police to "guard, watch and patrol". Modern day policing takes this as a foundation but also plays many other roles. In partnership with communities, with local authority services such as social work, housing and education and other services like health, police officers work to help divert young people away from crime, tackle violence against women, provide positive role models, educate young people about the dangers of drugs, play a role in emergency response, and signpost vulnerable people to other services among many other things. The roles and responsibilities of the key stakeholders who deliver policing in Scotland are set out in Annex A.

28. Community Planning Partnerships ( CPPs), led by local authorities, provide the main mechanism and focus for Councils, the police and other partners to work together to deliver better services and outcomes for local communities. Each CPP is responsible for developing and delivering a Single Outcome Agreement ( SOA) which sets out the priorities for local services and the outcomes or improvements they are working together to achieve. These CPPs and SOAs are based on the 32 council areas, not the eight police force areas. Each SOA sets out how the council, the police and other partners will contribute to Scotland's 15 National Outcomes including "We live our lives safe from crime, disorder and danger". The police work in partnership with many agencies and communities at local level. The difference in organisational structure between policing - with eight forces comprising 27 local divisions - and other local community partners means there is a lack of consistency in the way the police are able to engage in the development and implementation of SOAs. The Independent Review of Policing highlighted as a weakness the variation in engagement with community planning 10.

29. For six of the eight forces, Joint Boards are in place which cover up to 12 different local authority areas. In the other two forces, the boundaries of the force and local authority are the same. Joint Boards are composed of a number of councillors drawn from each constituent local authority but have their own separate legal status. Joint audit and inspections by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland and Audit Scotland have pointed to weaknesses in the effectiveness of current arrangements for local accountability 11. In the first audit and inspection of Best Value in a Police Authority in 2009, the Accounts Commission for Scotland and HMICS found Tayside Joint Police Board was not meeting the objective of Best Value, that is the continuous improvement in its duties and responsibilities which include effectively contributing to setting priorities for the police service and holding the chief constable to account. 12 In 2010 the audit and inspection of Northern Joint Police Board raised concerns about "inconsistencies in relationships between the board and its constituent local authorities" 13. Police forces are accountable to police authorities.

Unprecedented financial challenges

30. Scotland's public sector faces an extended period of financial constraint. The UK Government has reduced Scotland's budget by £1.3 billion in 2011-12. We face further significant cuts over the period to 2014/15, and lower levels to public expenditure are likely to continue for a number of years beyond that. We are providing resources to maintain 1,000 additional officers in 2011-12, but tough decisions will have to be made to protect frontline services to the years ahead.

31. The police have already examined what efficiencies can be made in the years ahead 14. It is clear that planned efficiencies will not be enough to fill the likely funding gap over the lifetime of the next Parliament and that some of the efficiency options would risk reducing the availability of local policing in our communities. We are determined to protect frontline policing despite reducing budgets.

Local engagement and partnership

32. None of the important outcomes we aim to achieve can be delivered by the police or any other service on its own - whether it be lower crime; strong and resilient communities; or improved life chances for children, young people and families at risk. Police officers work closely with a wide range of services on child protection, monitoring of offenders, health and education, preventing serious organised crime, counter-terrorism and many other areas.

33. The partnership role of the police is formalised in the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003, which requires police authorities and joint police boards to participate in community planning. The eight police forces are represented, in different ways, on the 32 CPPs, and each force delivers as part of the 32 SOAs. In the largest force, Strathclyde police is signatory to 12 SOAs linked to the 12 local authority areas within the force area.

34. Partnership is vital to the delivery of outcomes, but as the following diagram illustrates, the landscape is complex. The diagram illustrates the wide range of bodies with which the police work to deliver a very broad range of outcomes. Police and fire governance sits at regional level, while their partnership and engagement is mainly at local or national level. The current structure was created as part of local government regionalisation over 35 years ago, in 1975. Most other services are organised either at community, local council or national level.

Levels of Police Partnership Working

Levels of Police Partnership Working

35. With reduced resources across the public sector, it will be important to focus partnership activity on achieving better outcomes and to reduce any unnecessary effort or duplication of functions, while maintaining effective delivery. The Independent Review of Policing suggested that more collaboration would be needed to ensure that complex and specialist policing could be consistently delivered across Scotland, but found limited evidence to demonstrate that collaboration was happening. There is insufficient evidence to conclude that collaboration on its own will deliver the necessary capability and capacity to the timetable needed to keep pace with budget reductions and to maintain frontline services.

36. There is also more that could be done to ensure that the police are able to play a uniformly active role in community planning. For many local authorities there is a local policing division which shares the local authority boundary and this helps engagement, but this is not the case right across Scotland, and it is not enough on its own to ensure consistent, effective engagement across Scotland.

Taking police reform forward

37. This is an opportunity to look afresh at the role of policing, to recognise the broader contribution it makes in our communities, and to ensure that organisational arrangements help to support that contribution. We believe there is an opportunity to simplify the public service landscape, to make partnership working easier, and to remove barriers that hinder services working together to deliver the best outcomes for our communities. The police working in partnership with others and sharing resources and information helps to achieve the best possible outcomes with less cost. We want to support and enable the police to work in partnership to deliver the best possible outcomes at local level.

38. The unprecedented financial challenges mean Scotland must fundamentally consider how best to focus and organise its resources across the public sector. The Scottish Government has therefore appointed the Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services 15. The Commission will address the role of public services in improving outcomes; examine structure, functions and roles; and consider the role of a public service ethos.

39. The Scottish Government wants to maintain the momentum of the work being done on the future of the police and fire and rescue services, and the outcome of this work will be made available to the Christie Commission to inform its consideration. Any changes made in policing should be capable of fitting with any future changes to partner agencies.

40. If a decision is taken to change police structures, this would provide an opportunity to remove barriers to the police working effectively with other bodies and organisations to deliver the outcomes we want for Scotland. This is a unique opportunity to empower local communities to have responsive and appropriate policing that meets local needs. For example, there would be scope to ensure that the geographical boundaries of local police divisions mirrored those of local authorities.

Question 2: What do you think are the greatest opportunities and challenges facing policing in Scotland today and how do you think they should be addressed?

Question 3: How can partnership working between the police and other organisations be improved?

Question 4: How can the police better engage with communities to help them be more resilient and self-reliant?


41. At present, police forces are formally accountable only to police authorities and Joint Boards. The six Joint Boards operate at the regional level, covering up to 12 local authorities, and there are two single police authorities - Dumfries & Galloway and Fife. There are many other levels of less formal accountability and expectations of the police to account for their actions to individuals, groups, communities, partnerships and government. It is difficult to argue that this level of complexity in accountability arrangements is necessary.

42. Most policing is local and community based, but local authorities have no direct say in the policing of their area. Most relevant partnerships, such as community safety partnerships, are also based around local authority areas and again these have little relation to the current structure of the joint boards.

43. There has also been a significant growth in the police capability needed at a national level for Scotland, since the regional structure was put in place in the 1970s. There is no consistent form of accountability for national policing functions: at present, these functions are exercised through a mixture of lead force, collaborative agreements, non-departmental public bodies and other arrangements.

National accountability

44. Concerns have been raised about accountability of the police service at a national level. Audit Scotland's 2007 report on police call handling noted that "it was not always clear within the existing tripartite arrangements where proper accountability for national strategic decisions affecting local police services lay… and that the tripartite arrangement, while assisting in developing policies which meet local needs, may be a barrier to the adoption of national standards or agreements." It called on the Scottish Government to improve national accountability arrangements.

45. This concern was echoed in the 2009 Independent Review of Policing which identified a gap in governance at national level and called for a national forum with statutory powers, and new legal duties on chief constables to consider the national picture, to strengthen national governance and delivery of Best Value. 16

46. At a national level, ACPOS co-ordinates policy and strategic priority-setting across the forces. However, both HMICS and Audit Scotland have highlighted shortcomings in this structure, which relies on consensus across all eight forces and has no national public oversight mechanism. The creation of the Scottish Policing Board in November 2009 has created a forum for all partners to consider national priorities, but the Scottish Policing Board is not a statutory scrutiny or decision-making body and so in its current form is unable to meet all of the challenges identified by HMICS.

47. As set out earlier in this paper, Scotland faces a number of threats which require a national response. In recent years Scotland has suffered from the impact of international terrorism, serious fraud and human trafficking. Meanwhile, the rise of e-crime and other cyber threats knows no borders. We can also expect new threats which require new national capabilities.

48. Some national provision is already in place to address these threats or to provide better value for money across the existing eight forces. For example, the SCDEA has a primary role in preventing and detecting serious organised crime in Scotland. There are also a variety of national units, dealing with issues including counter terrorism and major crime, which provide specialist policing services across Scotland. Meanwhile, police training, criminal records, forensic science and information and communication technology ( ICT) are provided to all eight forces and the SCDEA on a national basis through the SPSA. There are also a wide range of collaborative arrangements across forces which, as highlighted above, lack clear and formal national accountability.

49. It is our view that, whatever the future structure of Scotland's police forces, there needs to be clearer responsibility and accountability at the national level for national policing issues and capability. We are also clear that the principle of operational independence for policing should be maintained. The role of the independent Lord Advocate in directing police investigations provides an important safeguard in this respect. We have a very long tradition in Scotland of separation between political control and the important investigative powers of the police. We have universal acceptance that such separation is a vital part of our democracy and this separation can and should be maintained under any structure.

50. We welcome views on how national governance and accountability can be strengthened and clarified.

51. It can be argued that a single police service would provide clear and transparent accountability for national policing. However, we recognise that, for some, this raises concerns about maintaining the operational independence of the police from the possibility of political interference in policing. In this respect it should be noted that Scotland's existing eight police forces are already accountable to local politicians through joint police boards and authorities made up of elected members from the constituent local authorities. Chief officers are appointed and may be dismissed by the joint board or authority (with the agreement of Scottish ministers) and are required to account to boards for the performance of their force.

52. There are also examples of single national police forces in mature democracies which have developed arrangements to carefully manage the relationship between the Government and the police, such as New Zealand, Denmark, Finland and the Republic of Ireland.

  • The Danish Police are employed directly by the state. The Minister of Justice, who is the chief police authority, exercises his or her powers through the National Commissioner.
  • The New Zealand Police Service, established in 1886, is led and managed by a senior police officer (Commissioner) appointed by the Governor General, who is the personal representative of the head of state, the Queen. New Zealand's Head of State is non-partisan and is not involved in the business of government, which is the responsibility of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The Commissioner is accountable to the Minister of Police for the administration of police services, but acts independently in carrying out law enforcement decisions.
  • In the Republic of Ireland, the Garda have been providing police services across the country since 1922. The Service is commanded by a Commissioner who is responsible to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. While the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is responsible to the Government for the performance of the Garda, it is the Commissioner who runs the organisation on a day to day basis.
  • In Finland, the police service was restructured in 2009 to create a two tier structure, local and national. The National Police Board directs the operation of all police units, and is headed by a National Police Commissioner.

53. In the area of the judiciary, where judicial independence is paramount, the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act provides an express guarantee of continued judicial independence

Local Accountability

54. At present there is a mainly regional structure of accountability for a range of policing functions that are principally local or national. There has been some criticism of the effectiveness of the existing arrangements. The HMICS and Audit Scotland Joint Best Value Audit and Inspections identified areas for improvement in existing police accountability arrangements, indicating that in at least one case the police authority was not scrutinising the force effectively, and not achieving Best Value 17. In another case, Audit Scotland found some evidence of inconsistencies in relationships between the joint police board and constituent councils 18. The Independent Review of Policing identified gaps in the governance arrangements for policing decisions made locally through community planning partnerships and their SOAs and also found that joint police boards and police authorities, require further support to work effectively. 19 The Accounts Commission also called for greater clarity of roles and responsibilities, and more support for board members in carrying out their role.

55. At present, police authorities and joint boards are responsible for overseeing the work of the chief constable and holding them to account for the policing of the force area. The six joint boards cover between 3 and 12 local authority areas and are made up of representatives from their constituent local authority areas. For example, Northern Joint Police Board has 24 members drawn from Highland Council (16), Shetland Islands Council (2), Orkney Islands Council (2) and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar/Western Isles Council (4). Meanwhile, Strathclyde Police Authority has 34 members - 8 from Glasgow, 4 from each of North and South Lanarkshire and 2 from each of the remaining 9 local authorities. We do not believe that this provides the strongest basis for local accountability for policing.

56. Police reform is an opportunity to improve accountability at a local level. There are a range of ways this might be achieved. Some examples are:

  • It would be possible under any option to devolve further responsibility to a senior police officer at the local authority level and to formalise structures and processes for local accountability;
  • Our consultation on fire reform suggests the possibility of a consultative 'blue light' committee for each local authority or CPP with responsibility for scrutinising plans for - and performance in - their area; and
  • In Ireland, the Garda Sionchana Act 2005 provides for the establishment of a Joint Policing Committee in each of the 114 local authority administrative areas. These Committees, currently being piloted in 29 areas, are chaired by a local authority representative and include other local authority representatives, Garda officers, local members of Parliament and representatives of the community and voluntary sectors.

We would welcome your views on how local accountability can be strengthened.

Question 5: What arrangements and relationships do you think would lead to the greatest improvements in national and local accountability?


57. Funding for policing is at a record level - £1.4 billion in 2010/11. Funding of the police has increased by 20% since 2007. Currently, police forces are funded both by the Scottish Government and local authorities. The requirement on local authorities to match central government funding to a formula was removed four years ago, but in practice most local authorities have continued to match central government funding in a ratio of 49% to 51% funding. Funding is also provided by central government for national policing provision such as training, ICT and forensic services provided by the SPSA, and other national resources such as national capacity to tackle serious organised crime, e-crime, complex fraud, and terrorism.

58. The settlement agreed with local government for the next financial year includes an agreement to maintain the commitment to 1,000 additional police officers on Scotland's streets. However, in the years ahead we know that budgets will get tighter. ACPOS has been working to identify efficiencies and savings within the current force structure. It is clear that these savings will not be sufficient to meet the challenge in the medium term. On that basis it was agreed that more work must be done to look at options for reform.

59. There is scope to streamline support functions and reduce unnecessary duplication. The interim report of the Sustainable Policing Project 20 showed significant variation between forces in how much it costs to provide policing functions and identified scope for significant savings to be made. These early findings show considerable potential for enabling excellent service delivery with reduced budgets if the most cost effective approach can be adopted across Scotland.

60. The Sustainable Policing Project Team's Interim report presented to the Scottish Policing Board on 15 December 2010 indicated that Scottish policing could potentially secure efficiency savings in the range of £81m to £197m per year by reducing duplication and rationalising and standardising processes across Scottish police forces. These figures are based on high-level financial data provided by the eight Scottish police forces and SPSA, and identification of the range of efficiencies that might be achieved within each policing function, based on benchmarking data from elsewhere. These figures are a high level assessment and further work is needed to test deliverability. However, they give an indication of the scope for significant savings to be made. Releasing £197m per year may not be achievable without impacting on our ambitions to enhance the delivery of outcomes and the interim report recognised that a proportion of the savings might be reinvested in front line policing to enhance outcomes. Even half that sum would be highly significant. As a comparator, the annual cost of providing 1,000 additional police officers in Scotland is £30m. The delivery of savings of the scale indicated by this early work would enable improvements to outcomes and accountability to be delivered, while ensuring the police service is sustainable for the long term.