THE chair of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) has been accused of “censorship” after he withheld damning criticism of plans to hold committee meetings in private from his own board.

In a letter to Andrew Flanagan, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) questioned whether the SPA had “sufficient credibility” in the eyes of the public to conduct key business behind closed doors.

However, although the aim of HMICS letter was to “inform” the SPA board ahead of a crunch meeting on the proposals, Mr Flanagan did not share the document with his colleagues.

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The SPA was set up to provide oversight of Police Scotland, but the watchdog has been under fire recently over a perceived lack of transparency.

A governance review by Mr Flanagan led to proposals for committees to be held in private and for board papers to only be made available on the day of the meeting.

The SPA approved a new governance "framework" on December 15th, but board member Moi Ali raised two objections and asked for her dissent to be minuted.

Mr Flanagan later sent her a letter expressing his dismay at her public criticism of the governance reforms, after which she resigned.

It has now emerged that Derek Penman, who leads HMICS, wrote to Flanagan personally about the private committee meetings plan six days before the SPA board met in December.

Mr Penman said he welcomed the new framework in “general terms”, but wrote: “I do have some observations in relation to your intention to hold committee meetings in private. This approach seems at odds with your key principle of transparency and your commitment that the Authority should be open and transparent and operate to the highest standards of public sector administration and management.”

In a scathing section of the letter, he added: “My final observation relates to the current maturity of both the Authority and Police Scotland and whether on the basis of past experiences, you have sufficient credibility and confidence amongst politicians, public, stakeholders and your own staff to support your proposal that much of your scrutiny should be conducted in private.

“I would have thought it more beneficial for the Authority to implement its new governance structures in public, not only demonstrating increased competence over its statutory functions, but demonstrating its commitment to openness and transparency in holding the Chief Constable to account for the policing of Scotland.”

Mr Penman added that his comments were “intended solely to inform members ahead of their decision next week”, but Mr Flanagan did not pass the letter on.

Ms Ali told the Herald: “I’m disappointed the chair chose not to share this letter from a key stakeholder. This smacks of censorship.”

Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Douglas Ross said: “This seems to be yet another example of Andrew Flanagan’s high-handed approach to dealing with SPA business. Instead of acting in the best interests of the SPA, it appears he’s only acting in the best interests of Andrew Flanagan.

“This raises further serious concerns and I urge the Scottish Government and other membership of the SPA to deal with these damning accusations against him.”

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Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “HMICS is right to take the SPA to task for its secrecy. If the Chair has kept this criticism from his board colleagues then that merits an urgent explanation."

A spokesperson for the SPA said: "The Chair published his review of governance last March, recommendations were accepted last June by the Cabinet Secretary, and there were no surprises in the subsequent governance framework approved by the board in December. The members of the SPA board discussed governance review implementation at their monthly business meetings throughout the second half of last year. It is for the SPA board to make decisions on its governance arrangements, and HMICS will in due course inspect us on the effect of those arrangements through its statutory responsibilities. The board has already made clear it is keeping the revised arrangements implemented in January under review."