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Agenda: New house created for Scottish policing is coming along nicely

This week has marked the first anniversary of the new single policing arrangements in Scotland.

The journey has been carried out in the public eye and at a politically sensitive time in Scotland's recent history. It is a milestone that many may look to judge in black and white terms of success or failure; merger or takeover; centralisation or an end to postcode policing.

None of those positions would be fair or accurate. The questions we should ask are how far have we progressed on the journey of reform and are we where we expected to be?

Few people will have encountered such a reform in their lifetime. I have likened it to the stresses and strains of moving house while juggling family commitments and looking after the day job. Most people don't want to do that again in a hurry. But you know you don't want to go back to the old place and you know that you want to invest and build for the future.

We have created a new house for Scottish policing but it is not yet the finished home we all want it to be. I have no doubts that the first phase of police reform has worked. We have laid the foundations for reform and, for the man and woman in the street, crime continues on a downward trend, clear-up rates remain high and public satisfaction with policing is strong.

More elected councillors than before are involved in scrutinising local commanders and the chief constable has been held to account in twice as many public authority meetings than under legacy arrangements.

How well local policing anticipates and responds to local needs is central to the long-term success of a single police service. When people regularly see more local officers out and about and active in the community, whether drawn from response, regional or specialist teams, that can only improve already encouraging levels of satisfaction and confidence. How far and effectively that is working is one of the early benefits of reform the authority will look to assess in the coming months. I am encouraged as I go around the country by the strength of the relationships local authorities and their communities are developing with local commanders.

That suggests to me that we are having some success in striking the balance between improving the consistency of police policy and approach and retaining an appropriate diversity of priorities and activity, based on local needs.

Together with Police Scotland, we have strengthened relationships, clarified roles and mobilised around a future direction and purpose. We have achieved all of the £64 million of savings required in the last year and agreed a financial plan to address the efficiencies in the next years.

I absolutely acknowledge the uncertainty that many of our police staff are living with and that police staff posts will reduce significantly over the next few years. However, I have consistently made clear that a balanced workforce is an essential component of a sustainable police service.

Police officer and police staff costs account for 80% of the overall policing budget. Of the efficiency savings secured in policing to date, reports to the authority suggest around 30% has been secured in staff savings. Again, that fact probably belies the perceptions created in the last year.

Police reform is not simply a merger and the strategies we have recently approved are not the end of the road in terms of reform. I believe there are further opportunities for collaboration and working in the area of prevention than have been embraced so far.

I have no doubt that, if we disrespect organisational boundaries and begin working in true partnership, we will deliver improved public services and make better use of public money.

However, the strong foundations already laid allow us to project, with some degree of confidence, that an excellent police service can be delivered alongside the realisation of £1.1 billion in financial savings by 2026.

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