Steering from the Centre: The Scottish Police Authority and police governance in Scotland

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Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationFeatured article

Abstract

This briefing presents key findings from independently funded doctoral research on police governance in Scotland following reform in 2012. The briefing discusses key issues identified by the research and sets out recommendations aimed at strengthening the SPA’s legitimacy, increasing stakeholder and public confidence, and enhancing the capacity of the Authority to implement robust governance and accountability mechanisms.

The SPA was envisioned by its architects as an apolitical arms-length body aimed at providing national strategic oversight and accountability of the single police service. It was envisaged that Board Members, appointed rather than elected, on the basis of specific skills, expertise and competencies, would provide the capacity and capability that the previous local police authorities lacked, and strengthen overall police governance. Although the SPA has continued to evolve and develop, the Authority has faced challenges both in terms of internal organisation, and the ability to effectively hold the police to account. This research identifies a range of factors that have arguably impeded the role of the SPA. These include gaps in terms of knowledge and skills, differing interpretations of the Authority’s role, purpose and statutory powers, as well as external pressures and impositions that undermined the autonomy of the Authority, particularly in its formative years.

A joint policy engagement protocol with Police Scotland, and more recently, the delivery of the 10year strategy Policing 2026 has created avenues for the SPA to proactively influence and scrutinise policing policies. Going forward, in order to ensure effective governance of transformation and robust accountability of operational policing, it is recommended that the SPA should strengthen its own knowledge-base by proactively engaging with external stakeholders, clarify and emphasise its role in delivering public accountability of the police, and establish sufficient autonomy to adequately position itself as a buffer between local and centrally elected representatives, and the police.