Auditor General publishes scathing report of police finances

Caroline Gardner

Reports finding that Scotland’s police “continue to suffer from weak financial leadership and considerable budget pressures” and that “urgent work is still needed to strengthen their finance function and improve their scrutiny governance” have been published today.

Caroline Gardner, the Auditor General for Scotland, has drawn the Scottish Parliament’s attention to “substantial issues” found during the annual audit of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).

Audit Scotland said in a statement that inaccurate records and poor financial management led to another challenging annual audit and significant corrections were needed to the SPA’s accounts. These issues led to the auditor modifying her opinion on the accounts for a third consecutive year.

In 2015/16, the SPA managed total spending of £1.1 billion. While the accounts feature more detail on how reform funding from the Scottish government has been used, the SPA, it said, “needs to be more open about how it allocates funding to Police Scotland and what this is expected to achieve”.

Audit Scotland estimates that the SPA could face a cumulative funding gap of almost £190 million by 2020/21. These projections include the Scottish government’s commitment to maintain a real terms increase in the policing budget for the duration of the current parliamentary session.

Ms Gardner said: “The Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland are among the largest and most important public bodies in the country. It’s therefore unacceptable that I’ve had to report to the Parliament on weak financial leadership and management in all three years of their existence.

“Substantial improvement is required now to deliver the strong financial leadership, long-term planning and robust scrutiny that will be needed if policing in Scotland is to withstand the major challenges ahead.”

A separate report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) published today found that “officers and police staff at all levels remain strongly committed, in often challenging circumstances, to providing a good service to communities across Scotland”.

In its second major crime audit, it noted that the nature of crime is changing and increasingly taking place online. Police Scotland currently assess that 80 per cent of its demand is non-crime related, with much of this relating to vulnerable people and placing additional pressure on officers and police staff across Scotland.

Concurring with the Audit Scotland report, it added that “major financial challenges persist and although there have been changes in the strategic financial leadership of both Police Scotland and the SPA, urgent work is still needed to strengthen their finance function and improve their scrutiny governance”.