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SPA should defend Chief Constable's freedom from political interference

I do not understand why the Police Superintendents' Association is continuing to demand the Chief Constable must exercise direct control over support functions that the Police Reform Act allotted to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) ("MSPs seek to end turf war over policing responsibility", The Herald, November 24).

The Act states in Section 3 that the SPA "may provide and maintain anything necessary or desirable for the carrying out of police functions, including vehicles, equipment, information technology systems, land, buildings, and other structures"; and that it "must, before the beginning of each financial year, provide to the chief constable details of how it intends to allocate the financial resources it expects to have available to it in respect of that financial year".

Which part of that do the superintendents find it difficult to understand? In particular, why do they think, when the Act says the SPA must give the Chief Constable details of how it intends to allocate the budget, that it really means something else and the SPA should have no role in the process?

Labour MSP Graeme Pearson's argument that because the SPA members are appointed and paid by the Government "if the SPA is given control over the police budget, it places the Government in a very strong position to influence and control the chief constable", is grotesque on two counts, as well as being insulting to the SPA members.

First, Parliament has already passed the legislation which set up the SPA and gave it control over the police budget, and Mr Pearson voted for it. Secondly, the Act gives the Cabinet Secretary several direct means of setting the broad policy framework within which the Chief Constable must operate, so he has no need to resort to indirect influence.

Unlike Mr Pearson I opposed the formation of a single force because I thought this would place too much policing power in too few hands, and I still think that is a source of danger.

There are safeguards against this in the legislation and perhaps the most important of these is the role of the independent SPA. If it fulfils its duties under the Act, it will defend not only its own proper role, but the Chief Constable's freedom from political interference in his control of operational policing.

When the MSPs meet Mr Emery and Mr House, they will do well if they remind both men the Act is their road map for the establishment of the new police service and it is their duty to give effect to all its provisions.

Christopher Mason,

25 Braidholm Road,

Giffnock.

YOUR leader neatly illustrates the embarrassing position which has developed between two Government appointees before either has officially commenced their public duties ("Police summons for two chiefs, The Herald, November 24").

The former chief constable of Strathclyde Police, Steve House, was appointed as the first chief constable of Scotland's new force four months ago. Similarly, Vic Emery, a seasoned businessman, was appointed by the Scottish Government as chairman of the new Scottish Police Authority to monitor and check the performance of the nascent force.

The Government Minister who made the appointments is responsible for clearly defining the respective duties tied to each office. The recent apparent spat between Mr House and Mr Emery is extremely unsettling for all, not least of all the Scottish Government which should have clearly defined who is to do what in this new centralised arrangement.

It does not bode well if these two senior appointees are uncertain as to their respective basic remits.

This is no doubt a sign of things to follow, and begs the question whether Scotland's once highly acclaimed local police forces should have been required to up anchor and drift into uncharted waters.

Allan C Steele,

22 Forres Avenue,

Glasgow.

I do think that in Vic Emery and Stephen House we have two exceptionally talented individuals to run the new single police force in Scotland. Working as a team, I am sure they are capable of creating a body which could be a template for the rest of Europe to follow.

It is frustrating when I read that at this early stage in the evolvement of the single force, turf wars would seem to have broken out. These cannot be allowed to cloud the emergence of the new service,

The tangible issue behind the difficulties is operational responsibility and the designation of what does and does not fall into that category. As an ex convener of a police authority I struggled hard to find a definition of what the phrase operational responsibility actually means.

In asking academics they gave notional advice without necessarily being very positive. At the end of the day the conclusion I reached was that in reality the meaning was whatever the Chief Constable decided it meant.

The new SPA will be a different body from any police boards of today or yesteryear. It will compromise people who are in place because of their expertise in some field or another.

It will not be sufficient to rationalise decisions to that board on the basis that it is a matter reserved to operational responsibility and therefore they can have no input.

I would encourage Mr House to realise the board to which he is about to become accountable is something he will not have encountered in Scotland before and he must adapt his thinking to embrace its expertise as a positive in assisting him in his task of policing our country.

Equally I would suggest that Mr Emery realises the sensitivity of the moment and seeks to keep control within the SPA only that which is necessary to optimise the total efficiency of the new single force.

Now is the time for these two exceptionally gifted people to lock themselves in a quiet room until they can come to an agreement on what is and what is not an operational matter. Once that has been resolved it will become self evident what infrastructure has to be placed where to sustain their agreed strategy.

If they can do this they will go down in history as creating a body capable of delivering the best policing arrangements in western Europe. If they cannot reach agreement they will jointly preside over a disaster.

Councillor George Kay,

25 Kirkbank Road,

Burntisland.

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