IT was a red risk, "Very High", in the jargon of Scottish civil servants.

Now it is amber, merely "High". That, according to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) is how it measured the danger that it would fall out with its key partners: the new national force it scrutinises and the Scottish Government.

Insiders stress this is merely the language of bureaucracy. The most important thing, sources say, is that the risk is identified and is being dealt with. Specifically: that the SPA might suffer a "lack of trust" and that its "working relationships are clunky and inefficient". One of its moves to mitigate against such risk is regular meetings between SPA chairman Vic Emery and Chief Constable Sir Stephen House.

Loading article content

Their relationship has not always been good. In the weeks before Police Scotland was formally launched last April, there was talk of a turf war. That conflict appears to be over.

"I am pleased with the relationship we now have with the police authority," Sir Stephen said yesterday after referring to the hardest year of his professional life. "Together we have managed to balance the budget, which was challenging."

Later last year Audit Scotland flagged up those challenges - and the difficulties of long-term savings. Now Sir Stephen, who has been charged with saving £1.1billion by 2026 reckons he will "exceed that target ahead of time". That means more tough decisions on jobs, with unions increasingly nervous about civilians bearing the brunt of cuts.

A source familiar with the police and its watchdog stressed SPA members had initially wanted "overt checks and balances" on more than the budget. "It is well documented that attempts to establish the policing model on this basis provoked a reaction from traditional policing quarters, plunging Sir Stephen and Vic Emery into a perceived power struggle," said the source.

"The SPA has had to reboot its approach to how it influences policing, with a stronger focus on engaging informally rather than through formal levers of power. Some of that is less visible and the irony is the SPA now finds itself fending off suggestions it is not 'in the face' of the police enough."

"The key issue going forward is where the Scottish Government will position itself," the source said. "Will St Andrews House (the Government's headquarters) reassess whether the balance is right between governance and operational autonomy?"