'Too early' to say if police reform achieved savings

Police officer
Image caption Police Scotland has met its savings targets, but faces financial challenges, HMICS says

It is too early to say whether the intended benefits of creating a single Scottish police force have been realised, a report has said.

The Inspector of Constabulary (HMICS), Derek Penman, said the force had met savings targets for its first year.

But in his annual report, he said financial challenges persist.

He said the reform had been effective, with front line policing continuing and minimal impact to the services provided to communities.

But he said local authorities should assert themselves in expressing their concerns where decisions taken nationally impact on their areas.

Police Scotland was created in April of last year by merging eight regional forces and the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency (SCDEA).

The Scottish government said it would lead to savings of £1.5bn over 15 years.

'Challenges remain'

Mr Penman said Police Scotland is operationally effective, with crime falling to a 40-year low, and it is better placed to deal with major events than the forces it replaced.

But his report warned: "The creation of the new service was only the beginning of a major change programme and challenges remain in terms of the medium to long-term sustainability.

"Financial challenges persist and although the savings targets were achieved for 2013/14, there is a need for both Police Scotland and the SPA (Scottish Police Authority) to be clear about future structures and have transition plans that deliver sustainable savings."

The creation of the single police service was criticised by many local authorities who claimed local accountability would be reduced.

And Mr Penman said genuine engagement with communities would help the force to be successful.

His report said: "I have found early evidence that there is more equal access to specialist resources across the country.

"There is also early evidence in the production of local plans that the connection with local communities is being developed, although there is further work to be done in this area."

He called on councils to "assert themselves" to hold divisional commanders to account for the delivery of local policing plans and to voice their concerns about the impact of national policies on their own areas.

"Effective localism and genuine engagement with communities will be a critical success factor for Police Scotland and the SPA moving forward," he said.

"Some of the change required will take time to achieve, and only once implemented will it be possible to fully assess whether the intended benefits of reform have been fully realised."

An SPA spokesman said an effective legal, financial and operational merger was delivered in the first year of the new police service.

He added: "We welcome the independent view of HMICS that policing is operationally stronger and better placed to deal with major events than the legacy police forces it replaced.

The focus for the coming year will be on continuing to ensure that local policing is closely tailored to local community needs, and to developing a long-term strategy to sustain and improve policing outcomes over the next decade."