Ministers will be forced to give an update on the cost to the taxpayer of government plans to reform how police complaints are handled after MSPs raised the alarm that figures given to Holyrood about the plans were wrong.

New estimates will have to be published in the coming weeks amid robust criticism by members of the cross party finance committee that the Scottish Government's original costings for the overhaul proposals were flawed and significantly underestimated the burden to the public purse.

The move comes just months after the same group of MSPs, led by SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson, published a damning assessment into the Scottish Government's handling of public finances.

That report published in November warned of a lack of a key focus on “affordability” within decision-making process and criticised ministers for short-term thinking.

The Police (Ethics, Conduct and Scrutiny) (Scotland) Bill was introduced by the Scottish Government in June last year and aims to ensure investigations into police misconduct are more transparent and effective.

It will require Police Scotland to have a statutory code of ethics, including a duty of candour, and would make changes relating to the handling of police conduct, including procedures dealing with senior and former officers.

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The legislation will also increase the functions of the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) and introduce an advisory board for PIRC.

Financial papers published by the government along with the bill estimated that the reforms would have ongoing annual costs of between £520,474 and £1.41million.

However, evidence given to the committee by Police Scotland suggested the reforms would cost the force alone a minimum of £5 million.

A paper to the committee noted: "In its submission to the committee’s call for views on the financial memorandum (FM) Police Scotland stated that the figures relating to Police Scotland provided in the FM are “significantly underestimated”, and that “Police Scotland calculate the projected financial  impact of the proposed bill to cost in the region of £5m, before recurring and  additional unknown costs are realised.”

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Appearing before the finance committee Graham Thomson, the head of legislation and divisional development, conceded to the committee last month the original costs had not taken into account inflation and pay rises when the original estimated costs were worked out. He also noted the figure given to Holyrood did not take account of an "anticipated increase in the number of gross misconduct cases".

Mr Thomson said he recognises “there is a difference between the costs set out in the financial memorandum and the evidence you have received as a committee”.

He added that officials are “working to revise that financial memorandum with the intention of publishing a revised version”.

He told the committee the government planned to give an update on the costs after the later stage two of the parliamentary process.

But committee convener Kenneth Gibson, the SNP MSP, said that would not be acceptable and told the senior official it would have to be published before the bill went to the stage one vote, when MSPs vote on the principles of the bill. The deadline for that vote is June 21.

The Herald: SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson is the convener of Holyrood's finance committee. Photo Getty.

"I am quite astonished that publication of the updated financial memorandum is planned to happen after stage two," Mr Gibson told Mr Thomson.

"An updated financial memorandum for any bill should be with us before stage one. I do not think that what is proposed is appropriate at all, and I hope that work will be done to ensure that what I have suggested happens."

Labour’s Michael Marra told Mr Thomson the financial memorandum was “not fit for purpose as it stands”.

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He insisted the costs quoted in the paper were “vastly out of kilter” with what MSPs have been told.

Mr Marra said: “The evidence would indicate the costs are up to three-and-a-half times higher than those you have presented so far.”

Mr Gibson said the figures in the financial memorandum date back to 2022, adding he was “bewildered” old data had been used.

He told government officials: “We’re being presented with a set of figures that actually don’t really mean anything.

“You’re effectively saying the financial memorandum, all 22 pages of it, really isn’t worth the paper it is written on.”

Mr Thomson said the government will “look to update parts” of the financial memorandum.

He told the committee: “I wouldn’t accept it’s not worth the paper it’s written on, but I do think there are elements we will update.”

The criticism of the costings came as the officials also came under fire for using framework legislation for the Bill – meaning key details will only be decided later by regulations.

MSPs on the finance committee have examined three other framework bills during the current parliamentary session, namely the National Care Service Bill, the Circular Economy Bill and the Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill.

SNP MSP Michelle Thomson said using framework legislation carries a “significant risk” to the public purse.

She said this is because the costs involved may not be fully known until a later stage, with the committee unable to “really look in detail at them”.

She said: “We’ve seen an increasing number of framework bills, and framework bills carry significant risk to the public purse. 

“From a public purse point of view, they represent a really significant risk to a waste of money.
In genuine honesty, if it were me, I would be developing a detailed risk assessment of using a framework bill for this type of legislation, from a purely financial perspective.”

Mr Marra said there has been a “very marked increase in the number of framework bills the Parliament is looking at”, with Conservative MSP Liz Smith adding: “I don’t know how many framework bills we have in this Parliament just now, but it is a lot.”

Mr Thomson said officials involved in the bill “haven’t personally had any discussions about the impact of framework legislation”.

But he added it was felt the “best way” the bill could be implemented was through such legislation.

He said he will “take away the point” the MSPs were making, but added: “There is also potentially a question there for ministers as well.”

A Scottish Government source said that following the further information provided to the finance and public administration committee by Police Scotland, a revised financial memorandum will be provided to the committee in order to support Stage 1 scrutiny of the Police (Ethics, Conduct and Scrutiny) (Scotland) Bill.

The source added it is for Parliamentary committees to confirm who and when they would like to invite witnesses to provide evidence.