More work needs to be done to help Police Scotland develop a longer-term vision and sustainable model for policing, a watchdog has suggested.

A strategic review by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) has also praised the progress made by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) in providing oversight and scrutiny of policing.

The report found improved leadership and direction at the SPA has greatly enhanced the work of the body, which holds Police Scotland to account.

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, Craig Naylor, said: “To deliver the future ambitions for policing, the SPA needs to ensure there is a clearly defined operating model, a medium–term financial plan and an effective workforce plan in place, to support a financially sustainable and high–performing police service.”

The SPA was set up in 2013 when Scotland’s eight police forces were combined into a single force, with stated aims that included promoting and supporting the continuous improvement of policing in Scotland and holding the chief constable to account.

HMICS has conducted four inspections of the SPA since its inception, with the most recent review having the specific objective of assessing the SPA’s journey of improvement since the last inspection in 2019.

It noted there had been major changes including a new executive and staffing structure, a new chair, a permanent chief executive and new board members.

Police Scotland officers Police Scotland officers (Image: PA)

Mr Naylor said: “Our review work has clearly demonstrated a significant difference in the approach and effectiveness of the SPA as a corporate body since our 2019 inspection.

“There have been real improvements in leadership, governance and accountability – the core statutory role of the SPA.

“Planning, capacity and capability have all been improved. These improvements have also been acknowledged by external auditors.”

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The review praised the SPA for its good governance relating to a forecasted budget overspend by Police Scotland of £18.9 million that it announced for 2023-24.

Inspectors expressed concern, however, no effective plans are in place to secure financial sustainability where funding gaps are identified in the medium to longer term.

The HMICS report listed 17 areas for development for the SPA, including calling on it to improve its scrutiny in terms of any strategic risks encountered by Police Scotland.

It also said the SPA should prioritise its work for most impact.

Mr Naylor added: “It is paramount that the SPA is able to provide effective oversight and governance of the improvements needed across the whole policing system, including using its role to ensure best value and continuous improvement within Police Scotland.

“We are confident that – with the strong leadership now in place, and the support provided by the SPA’s corporate function and board members – the necessary longer-term vision and sustainable policing model can be achieved.”

Police ScotlandPolice Scotland (Image: PA)

Martyn Evans, chairman of the SPA, said: “The SPA has a critical role to play maintaining, supporting, overseeing and holding policing to account for the policing services delivered across the country.

“The insights and assurance offered by HMICS through its programme of review and inspection informs our work.

“I am pleased this latest review of the authority recognises the significant achievement and substantial efforts to develop the authority as a professional and strategic scrutiny body for policing in Scotland.

“I want to thank my fellow board members and the chief executive for their vision, leadership and direction and recognise the efforts of the staff team who support the board.

“Together they have delivered significant improvements over the last four years.

“The authority has embraced continuous improvement in its own work and across policing delivery and I have no doubt that journey to drive improvement will continue in the years ahead.”

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Lynn Brown, chief executive of the SPA, said: “The SPA embarked on a significant improvement journey in 2020 to strengthen its role and contribution across the policing system.

“I am very pleased that HMICS has recognised the progress that has been made to develop effective governance and scrutiny arrangements for policing.

“I want to pay tribute to my staff team who have delivered these improvements over the last four years.

“Of course, the drive toward even better performance remains our focus and HMICS highlights several areas for further development which will be taken forward through our programme of continuous improvement.”