Justice Secretary’s Response to President’s Speech at ASPS Conference

Please find below the transcript of Justice Secretary Michael Matheson’s response to ASPS President Niven Rennie’s speech at the 2015 ASPS Conference.

President, thank you for your introduction and the opportunity to respond to your address.

It is a real privilege to be here today and have the opportunity to thank ASPS members in person for their dedication and professionalism. The role you all play – as the operational leaders of the organisation – is absolutely pivotal in delivering excellent policing to our communities.

Since I took up the post of Justice Secretary around six months ago, I have been enormously impressed by the outstanding work you – and other police officers and police staff – do day in day out. It’s greatly appreciated.

I know it’s been a tough couple of years. I recognise the range of pressures officers in the Superintending ranks face.

I’ll return to those challenges shortly, but we mustn’t lose sight of what has been achieved, and the strong progress which has been made in little over two years.

Crime is at a 40 year low. Scotland is safer and stronger than ever. Local policing remains strong, while every community in Scotland is enjoying the benefits of a single service, including more equitable access to specialist resources.

In sensitive and complex issues like rape, domestic abuse and child sexual exploitation, we are seeing the very real benefits of a single service.

That wouldn’t have been possible without the contribution of ASPS members.

Over the past 12 months alone, Scotland has been on the world stage, with effective policing contributing to the success of international events like the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup. Again, you led the delivery.

And encouraging progress is being made too in the change programmes which are transforming the legacy organisations into a genuinely integrated single service. When this important transformation work is complete we will see the full benefits of reform and your work leading the major change programmes is at the heart of everything we want to achieve.

I know this has brought challenges. Change is never easy, and change on this scale – the most significant reform undertaken in Scotland since Devolution – is almost unprecedented.

Reform has undoubtedly been a success. We are learning lessons and making progress.

But I know we would all recognise some things could have been done better – with reform of this magnitude, that was perhaps inevitable.

The financial climate the entire public sector is operating in is tough. We’re facing severe budget cuts from the Westminster government, and that calls for tough choices to be made and, on occasion, for the pace of change to be quicker than we would all like.

I am acutely aware of the difficult environment you are working in. You are all at the sharp end, with pressure from above and below.

The profile of policing has never been higher, and you are now subject to more intense media and Parliamentary scrutiny than ever. Some has been unreasonable. Attacking the integrity and dedication of officers is not justified.

In the short time I have been in post, I have already met Niven and other members of your Executive Committee on a few occasions and I have been made aware of the difficulties you face, and your continued commitment to deliver an outstanding police service.

The issue of communication has been highlighted: how change is communicated to all of you, and also how it is communicated to the public and stakeholders.

There were issues, and the Chief Constable and Chair of the SPA have publically acknowledged that. There is no doubt they have learned from high-profile issues like stop and search and firearms, and they need to involve others – including, of course, ASPS – when making changes which have a direct effect on the delivery of policing to our communities.

You should be at the heart of decision making for the service and I will look to the Police Scotland and the SPA to involve you – and other staff associations and trade unions – when new policies are being considered.

As I said, tough decisions are required and the pace of change may be quicker than we like – but that can’t get in the way of appropriate discussion and engagement with ASPS and the Superintending ranks. Your input is crucial.

I know work-life balance – and the pressures you are constantly under – is a major concern.

The results of your survey, combined with the workforce engagement survey, should provide strong evidence to inform Police Scotland and the SPA on what areas are of concern to your members, and the wider workforce.

I will be looking to Police Scotland and the SPA to act upon these results as a priority.

I know that many ASPS members see their service as a personal vocation, but Police Scotland must not take advantage of your good will.

I’m reassured Police Scotland has set up the Health and Wellbeing group and is working with the staff associations to consider what positive action can be taken to reduce the pressures you face.

The recent survey of your on-call commitments will show the scope of your responsibilities, and Police Scotland will need to work with ASPS to consider any changes needed to ensure on-call is proportionate.

Your wellbeing is a priority for the SPA and Police Scotland but as you highlighted, your members are also often first responders to members of the public with mental health problems.

The Scottish Government is working with a range of stakeholders, including the police, to develop a shared understanding of the challenge and appropriate local responses that engage and support those experiencing distress, as well as support for practitioners.

I very much welcome the Police Scotland ‘Community Triage’ pilot across the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area and look forward to seeing the results of that pilot later in the year.

Niven rightly raised the issue of equality within the workforce and it is worth noting that Police Scotland is ranked 7th in Scotland, on the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. That is a significant achievement for a relatively new organisation.

Combined with the recent addition of 2 female ACCs, it shows that progress is being made, however, I know that there is still some way to go to enable Police Scotland to meet its commitment to mainstream equality across policing in Scotland.

You also raised the issue of VAT, and we have previously discussed the changes to pensions introduced by the Westminster Government.

As you are aware, the Scottish Government does not currently have the powers to take decisions in these policy areas as they remain reserved to the Westminster government. We have made representations to Treasury Ministers, without success, but we will continue to put pressure on them to either give us the powers we need, or to minimise the impact of the changes on your members, and other public sector workers.

Where we do have our hands on the levers, we will use them effectively, as we have done to ensure the Winsor package is not imposed in Scotland.

Indeed, the overall approach we take here is to work closely and constructively with the staff associations, unions, Police Scotland and the SPA. I am absolutely committed to continuing in that positive vein, as it has served us well.

I am sure you noted the recent speech by Theresa May at the Police Federation England and Wales conference.

This government does not believe that is the way to treat staff associations. While we may not always agree, we will listen to your concerns and act where we can. And, above all, we will always treat you with the respect you deserve.

I know ASPS would like to see a transformation in the way policing is delivered, and have raised questions around the commitment to 1000 additional officers.

It was in the manifesto this government was elected on and we remain committed to it – as do Police Scotland and the SPA.

This is in stark contrast to the position in England and Wales where police officers numbers continue to fall sharply – where there are almost 15,000 less officers than in 2007.

The 1000 additional officers we have delivered compared to 2007 – along with police staff, of course – are playing a major role in keeping the people of Scotland safe and providing reassurance to our communities. That, ultimately, is what we are all here for.

I recognise workforce costs are a sizeable proportion of the policing budget, but I know Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority are determined to maximise non-staff savings.

In this transitional phase of reform, Police Scotland and the SPA are taking forward a programme of transformational work to create a truly integrated single service. There is some way to go, but encouraging progress is being made.

I expect the SPA and Police Scotland to engage timeously, appropriately and meaningfully with staff associations and unions throughout all of this work.

The first workforce engagement survey of officers and staff is now open and I would urge all of you to complete it as honestly as possible. The importance of having your voice heard through the survey should not be under estimated.

Given the ambition and pace of reform – coupled with almost unprecedented levels of scrutiny – I have no doubt some of the survey results may make uncomfortable reading.

However, I have been assured by the Chief Constable that the results to be acted upon and improvements made. The SPA will be responsible for ensuring that this happens, and I will monitor the situation carefully.

The surveys which follow this first one will be the most important and they must demonstrate improvements have been made, and that you’ve been listened to.

I encourage all of you to take the time to fill it in so the SPA and Police Scotland have a benchmark to make things better.

President and members, I would like to conclude by once again thanking all of you for the excellent job you do in difficult and demanding circumstance to keep Scotland safe.

The Scottish Government greatly appreciates the important part you all play in the continued success of Scottish policing as it undergoes reform.