News : Police Scotland Given Funds for Call-centre Staff Costs as Closures Postponed
Glasgow, Scotland, Sept 3, 2015 -- Police Scotland has been handed funds to recruit and retain control-room centre staff after the Justice Secretary said he does not want another family to experience the loss of those affected by the M9 tragedy.
Michael Matheson addressed the multiple controversies that have engulfed Police Scotland in a statement to parliament.
He pledged to implement the recommendations of two independent reports into stop and search and police call handling which were published.
Mr Matheson also pledged to strengthen police scrutiny, urged public authorities to comply with the law amid allegations of police spying on journalists and said an investigation into the death in custody of Sheku Bayoh is "well-advanced".
The Justice Secretary said he is "truly sorry" for the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill, who lay undiscovered in a wrecked car for three days despite a sighting of the vehicle being reported to a police call-centre.
He confirmed the Scottish Government would implement the recommendation of HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMICS) to keep the Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness control-centres open until Govan and Bilston Glen have a full complement of trained staff and working systems, and the new area control-room in Dundee is fully operational .
The remaining phases of the control-room reform programme "will only proceed once the SPA (Scottish Police Authority) and HMICS are completely reassured that all these issues have been addressed", he said.
He added: "This recommendation will require the accelerated recruitment of 70 to 75 call-handling staff to consolidate service centre operations, plus additional area control-room staff to ensure that the combined north area control-room in Dundee is fully operational before the closure of the Aberdeen and Inverness control-rooms.
"It will also support the retention of staff in Aberdeen and Inverness for a period beyond March 31 2016 to allow for an effective handover of operations. This will, of course, be subject to discussion with unions and staff.
"There is a cost attached to implementing this recommendation, estimated by Police Scotland at around £1.4 million in this financial year.
"I can confirm to the Chamber today I am making £1.4 million of new money available immediately for Police Scotland to meet this cost."
He added: "The M9 incident had terrible consequences and I do not want any family to go through that experience again."
Mr Matheson also promised "early action on the issue of stop and search" following the publication of John Scott QC's recommendation of a statutory code of practice to underpin how stop and search is used.
The advisory group was commissioned following a public outcry over the widespread use of stop and search, particularly the use of "consensual" searches on children.
Mr Matheson said: "The current system of consensual stop and search will end once that code comes into effect.
"I have informed the convener of the Justice Committee that I intend lodging appropriate amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill at Stage 2 to give effect to this."
He also said the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (Pirc) investigation into the death in custody of of Sheku Bayoh "is well-advanced".
Turning to allegations of police spying on journalists, Mr Matheson said he expects "all public authorities in Scotland to comply with the code of practice on accessing communications data".
"The press must be able to operate freely and with appropriate protections, and no individual should have their communications data improperly accessed," he said.
The Interception of Communications Commissioner is currently investigating un-named UK forces for alleged breaches and Mr Matheson said it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.
Mr Matheson pledged to strengthen police scrutiny, beginning with a local scrutiny summit scheduled for September 23.
Concerns were raised that armed police were rolled out without public consultation and some commentators have said that scrutiny has diminished since the old regional police boards were abolished.
Mr Matheson said: "Currently, 32 local scrutiny boards mean there are more councillors than ever before having a say on policing priorities in their area.
"Police Scotland is accountable to the SPA, which in turn is accountable to this government - with the Parliament's Justice Sub Committee providing regular and active challenge. There is independent oversight from HMICS and the Pirc as well as Audit Scotland.
"Police Scotland has faced greater levels of political, public and media scrutiny than ever before. But I believe we can strengthen it even further."
He confirmed that Andrew Flanagan, former chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, has been appointed to succeed Vic Emery as chair of the Scottish Police Authority.
One of his first jobs will be to appoint a successor to Sir Stephen House, who announced last week that he will be stepping down early.
Scottish Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson called on Mr Matheson to explain comments he had made in the aftermath of the M9 crash.
He said: "Shortly after the Cabinet Secretary announced his call handling review he said that there was nothing to suggest, I quote, a systemic failure or the centre was overburdened.
"Given the damning contents of the HMICS review indicating the very opposite, can Mr Matheson tell Parliament on what basis both he and the Chief Constable were justified in pointing the finger at an unnamed officer accusing an individual failure?"
Mr Pearson also called for an independent system of "rigorous" governance and accountability for Police Scotland.
Responding, Mr Matheson said: "At the time following that incident in the discussions I had with the Chief Constable they had looked at what happened in that particular instance and I was making my comments based upon the advice that had been provided by Police Scotland."
He said he had set up the HMICS review to ensure "that nothing like this ever happens again".
Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell called for the governance review of the force announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon earlier this week to include "meaningful dialogue" between the SPA and rank-and-file officers.
She said: "Given the vexing problems associated with the centralised 101 call system, it is astounding that the HMICS interim report makes the recommendation that the reform programme for control centres should be completed as planned, especially given the concerns and complaints from rank-and-file officers about its operation and also about the target-led approach to stop and search."
Ms Mitchell added: "With an extra £1.4 million now having to be allocated to the recruitment of support staff, it was clearly a false economy to make so many crucial support staff redundant in the first place."
The Justice Secretary said the SPA already engaged with staff and union associations on a regular basis but acknowledged that dialogue "can improve".
Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes welcomed the recommendation of the advisory group that consensual stop and search should end.
She said: "For two years SNP ministers insisted they were conformable with consensual stop and search and refused our appeals to intervene.
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"Meanwhile, Police Scotland conducted one million unlawful searches and young and vulnerable people were targeted."
Ms McInnes pressed Mr Matheson to back an independent review of police management and culture to address what she described as a "top-down, target-driven" culture in the force.
He pointed out Police Scotland’s operational independence from ministers in setting targets but added: "I’ve got no doubt that an incoming chief constable will choose to consider what they believe is the most appropriate way forward in setting any targets or the culture which they set in the organisation, and I’ve got no doubt that the SPA will want to engage with them on that matter."
He highlighted figures out today showing that in June 69% of searches carried out by police in Scotland were statutory and 31% were consensual, a reversal of the 2014 percentage.
SNP MSP John Mason urged "perspective" over the problems in the force, pointing out that violent crime is at its lowest since 1974.
He came under attack from Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who said: "People have died, you should be ashamed of your comments."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Police Scotland:
The Police Service of Scotland is the primary police service of Scotland. It was formed in 2013 with the merger of all eight territorial police forces in Scotland and the specialist services of the Scottish Police Services Authority, including the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency. Although not formally absorbing it, the merger also resulted in the winding down of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland.
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