Watchdog raises concerns over Police Scotland ICT funding

Audit Scotland claimed there is a ‘lack of clarity’ about £300m tech transformation plans

Credit: Jacob Edward/CC BY 2.0

Uncertainty about where the £298m needed to implement Police Scotland’s IT strategy will come from threatens the future of Scottish Police Authority’s (SPA) finances, Audit Scotland has said.

Auditor General Caroline Gardner said the digital strategy was a “key part” of the transformation of Police Scotland, but the “lack of clarity” over the funding poses a “risk to both the timing of its implementation and the future financial sustainability” of the SPA.

The SPA went over budget by a total of £34.3m in 2017-18, with a nearly £38m overspend of the money allocated for day-to-day running of the police offset by some savings elsewhere. Audit Scotland criticised a £9.9m cut to the reform budget during the year as a “missed opportunity” to make progress in transformation as this money will not be available in future.

According to the audit, £4.3m was spent on consultants in 2017-18 compared to £1.9m in 2016-17 as part of the reform process, while £4m was used for agency staff in 2017-18, more than twice the £1.5m spent in 2016-17.

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Audit Scotland said it was too early to evaluate whether they have delivered value for money. However, the watchdog was more positive about improvements to governance.

It noted that there are now better budget monitoring processes in place and predicted that changed leadership – which has seen seven new board members, a new chair and a new chief exec join the authority in the last year – “should bring stability”.

Auditor General Caroline Gardner said: “Policing in Scotland continues to go through considerable change.

“Progress has been made in key areas but there remains a substantial amount of work to do if the SPA is to achieve long-term financial sustainability and meet the challenges of modern policing. The scale, cost and complexity of the plans needed to deliver that transformational change should not be underestimated. It’s vital that the SPA and Police Scotland develop comprehensive strategies for its future workforce, estates and ICT and clarify where the funding is coming from to make them a reality.”

Responding to the report, chair of the Scottish Police Authority Susan Deacon said: “A huge amount of work has gone in to improving the financial and organisational performance of the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland – and that work continues. This year’s annual report and accounts, and Audit Scotland’s independent report, demonstrate that substantive improvements have been made. I am particularly pleased that Audit Scotland has noted that the Authority now conducts its business in an open and transparent manner. This was, quite rightly, an area of significant critical comment in the past.

She added: “I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge which the Authority and Police Scotland still face, and both organisations are continuing to work through major programmes of transformation and change, not least to respond to increased demand and changing circumstances within the context of continuing pressures on the public purse. I am confident, however, that we are now putting in place the people and the practices needed to build a police service which is fit for purpose, fit for the future and which commands high levels of public confidence and trust.”

Sam Trendall

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