POLICE Scotland’s most senior financial figure has left the force amid concerns over an £85million budget black hole.
Janet Murray’s departure last week follows a shake-up of financial scrutiny functions at the single force and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) oversight body.
The force has been caught up in rows over stop and search and armed policing, but budget cuts have also put the organisation under severe pressure.
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In December, Audit Scotland warned of “significant issues” in police finances and flagged up a potential £85m gap by 2018/19.
Auditor General Caroline Gardner added that Police Scotland and the SPA had to “provide stronger leadership" on financial management.
Although the SPA recently approved the force’s 2016/17 budget, it is understood senior policing figures clashed over the detail of the plan.
On Friday, this newspaper asked about the position of Murray, who has been Director of Financial Services at the force since March 2014.
She sits on the Police Scotland Executive and has responsibility for the development of financial strategies and the management of the £1.1bn budget.
Hours after the Sunday Herald's enquiry, the SPA and the force confirmed structural changes in finance in a statement:
“Over the coming year, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) and Police Scotland will merge their two existing financial director roles into a single chief finance officer post.
“The SPA and Police Scotland have been jointly reviewing their approach to financial direction and control since the new Chair and Chief Constable were appointed, informed by the practical learning of the last three years and the recommendations of the recent review of governance.
“The new role will also provide both the SPA board and Police Scotland leadership teams with a single point of strategic advice on financial matters. It will also reduce the risk of conflicting priorities, duplication and bureaucracy impacting on the effectiveness of the finance function in shaping a more effective and efficient policing organisation."
The statement added: “The respective existing director roles in both SPA and Police Scotland will be phased out. Both SPA and Police Scotland wish to thank the individuals concerned for the considerable work they have put in to the establishment of the single service.”
James Gray will be seconded from PricewaterhouseCoopers to support Police Scotland as an interim chief financial officer ahead of a recruitment process to fill the post on a permanent basis.
The shake-up reflects tensions between Police Scotland and the SPA on the accountability of policing finance.
A recent governance review undertaken by SPA chair Andrew Flanagan flagged up the tension:
“While the [SPA] Chief Executive is the Accountable Officer, £1.0bn (more than 90% of the budget) is delegated to Police Scotland and is under the direct control of the Chief Constable.”
“Until December 2015, the finance director of Police Scotland reported to a deputy Chief Constable within Police Scotland and the CEO of the SPA had no explicit ability to direct this individual. In response to a seriously critical audit report, we have temporarily introduced a new role of Chief Financial Officer with direct reporting lines to the CEO.
“It is not desirable for the SPA to have direct line management of the finance function in this way as it blurs the responsibility and accountability of those who make the spending decisions. However, it is equally untenable for the person who has accountability to Parliament not to have the power to act when things are going awry.”
Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Douglas Ross said: "Whoever takes charge of the single force's purse strings has a monumental job of trying to make budget savings while ensuring the frontline is protected. This again falls at the SNP's door. It drove through the establishing of Police Scotland, and now it needs to prove that was the right decision."
Scottish Labour justice spokesperson Claire Baker said: "The SNP promised they would protect the policing budget but we know the services face huge cuts. Officers and staff work round the clock to keep people safe and deserve proper support and resources from the SNP Government."
A spokesperson for Police Scotland said: “We can confirm Janet Murray no longer works for Police Scotland.”