Scottish Police Authority chair Andrew Flanagan to stand down

Published in Holyrood by Jenni Davidson on 14th June 2017

Scottish Police Authority (SPA) chair Andrew Flanagan is to stand down, the Scottish Government has announced today. A number of MSPs had called for his resignation after Flanagan had been criticised by two Holyrood committees over issues of governance and transparency.

In his resignation letter Flanagan said that he had made “significant progress on a number of fronts”, listing the creation of a long-term strategy for policing in Scotland, the appointment of a new chief constable, setting a “clear direction” to bring financial stability, improving community engagement and reshaping the SPA board so that it had a better mix of skills.

However, he added: “Notwithstanding these successes, recent events have focussed on my disagreement with a board member and concerns that by discussing with the board issues raised by HMICS rather than copying his letter this was indicative of a wider lack of transparency, which of course is not the case. To remedy these issues, I have apologised the former board member and put in place changes to the governance arrangements of the SPA to ensure there can be no perception of a lack of openness. Despite the limited nature of these matters and at a time when serious challenges are faced by policing in Scotland, there has been prolonged and continued debate in the media and in Parliament. This is not helpful to the SPA or policing more generally and is proving a distraction to the important work we are undertaking.”

Flanagan then said that since he did not want the debate to impact on the implementation of the Policing 2026 strategy, which has been handed to ministers for approval, and because the criticism had become “quite personalised” and was impacting on himself and his family, he had decided it was “in the best interests of policing to stand down”.  He will continue in the role until a successor is appointed.

Commenting on the resignation, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “I am grateful to Andrew Flanagan for his significant contribution to policing, having become chair at a key time for the sector and brought a more strategic focus to the oversight of this key public service. Together with the Chief Constable, Andrew has led the development of the future strategy for policing, including extensive public consultation through the draft 2026 strategy. However, he has acknowledged that mistakes have been made. He has offered a full and very public apology and made clear changes to transparency and governance in light of the concerns raised. I have agreed that he will stand down from his role once a successor is identified and recruited through the public appointments process. This will allow business continuity over this important period.”

Opposition parties have said the Scottish Government should take a share of the blame for issues in the authority. Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP said:

“Andrew Flanagan has taken the right decision in the interests of the SPA. However, serious damage has already been done to the reputation of the organisation. For that, the SNP government must accept its full share of the blame, given their botched centralisation of policing. While the next chair must ensure there is now a genuine culture shift towards greater transparency and democracy, the Justice Secretary needs to guarantee this through legislation.”

Scottish Labour’s justice spokesperson Claire Baker MSP said: “In only four years of Police Scotland, the SNP government’s shambolic management has seen the loss of one chief constable and two chairs of the SPA. Andrew Flanagan’s position was untenable and his decision to go is the right one. Only the Justice Secretary and the First Minister were the last two people in Scotland to see this. This resignation must only be the start of the complete overhaul that is needed at the top of the SPA, from its board to its senior management. We need to see openness and accountability throughout the SPA, this must start with the chair and the chief executive. Justice Secretary Michael Matheson must now come to Parliament and give an urgent statement about the future of the Scottish Police Authority.”

The Scottish Government has announced a review of the support provided to the Scottish Police Authority Board, which the Justice Secretary said “will consider how the executive of SPA can best support the board to take informed, transparent decisions.”  The review will be jointly led by SPA deputy chair Nicola Marchant and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar chief executive Malcolm Burr.  It will cover issues including how the executive can work with Police Scotland to support the board, how arrangements for engaging stakeholders can be strengthened and the staffing and operating structure.

Matheson added: “I expect to receive the report in the autumn and will carefully consider its findings to ensure we have a strong and robust police authority to oversee Scottish policing as it continues to serve and safeguard our communities.”