JUSTICE Secretary Kenny MacAskill has rejected a claim by Scotland's new chief constable that legislation will have to be changed to sort out the turf war between him and the head of the new single force's oversight body.
With just three months to go before Police Scotland becomes fully operational, chief constable Stephen House has been at loggerheads with Vic Emery, chairman of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), about who has ultimate control over personnel and budget issues. But Mr MacAskill has told the pair to sort out their difficulties themselves.
Mr House wrote to Holyrood's Justice Committee updating members on the continuing talks, which he said had made "some progress, with general agreement on high-level principles." However, he also wrote: "Our focus is very much on the delivery of a policing service for day one, and I reserve some concern about the pace of progress.
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"However, given the importance of the reforms, it is important we get the structures right for the future. I am increasingly of the view that the only satisfactory resolution will be a change to legislation in order to address the matter fully."
Alison McInnes of the Liberal Democrats, who led opposition to the creation of a single national police force and refused to vote in favour of the legislation last year, said: "It's now a month since [Scottish LibDem leader] Willie Rennie asked the First Minister about this chaos. Alex Salmond laughed it off as 'creative tension'.
"Now we learn that the chief constable thinks there will be a need for fresh legislation to clarify who has responsibility for the finances of the police service and the management of the civilian support staff."
The Government is rejecting the view of Mr House and predicting the impasse will be resolved without the need to revisit the legislation. A statement on behalf of Justice Secretary Kenny McAskill stressed: "Our legislation clearly sets out the roles and responsibilities of the chairman of the SPA and the chief constable of the Police Service of Scotland. It is for the chairman and the chief constable to determine how to fulfil their responsibilities.
"The chairman has written to the Justice Committee confirming he expects formal agreement on corporate functions to be reached at the SPA's next meeting this month. The Police and Fire Reform Act was overwhelmingly passed by Parliament (by 101 votes to six with 14 abstentions) and it has been thoroughly scrutinised by four Parliamentary committees."
But Ms McInnes said: "Six thousand people work for the police service in civilian support roles, covering everything from scenes-of-crime to headquarters administration. They have the right to know who is taking decisions about their future.
Putting the blame squarely at the feet of ministers, she added: "Government ministers insisted on rushing this flawed legislation through. They need to come out of hiding and give a formal statement from the Scottish Government about how it proposes to take matters forward."
John Lamont, chief whip of the Scottish Conservatives, said: "People will see this latest row and wonder, with such a major aspect still unresolved, will this single force be ready for its start date?"