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10/11/15 14:13

HMICS call handling report

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson
10 November 2015

Presiding Officer, I welcome this early opportunity to update Parliament following the publication today of the report on police call handling that I directed HMICS to undertake 3 months ago.

I want to start by once again offering sincere condolences to the families of John Yuill and Lamara Bell for the tragic loss that they have suffered.

I have previously highlighted my belief that the foundations of policing are strong and this is reinforced by the latest statistics which show recorded crime is at a 41 year low, supported by the 1000 extra officers this government has delivered.

But of course the credit goes to the hardworking officers and staff across Scotland who regularly put themselves into situations that many of us would not.

But there is more to be done, which is why the Programme for Government set out a series of measures to strengthen policing.

  • In September I held a Summit to support the further development of local scrutiny and over 80 stakeholders attended.

  • The Chair of the Scottish Police Authority has already begun his review of Police Governance and this is on track to report in March 2016.

  • And we will shortly embark on a refresh of the strategic police priorities, giving communities the chance to have their say.

The process to appoint a new Chief Constable is also well advanced, and the Chair of the SPA has set out a clear expectation that the new Chief will put a strong focus on addressing issues highlighted in the recent staff survey.

Presiding Officer, I want to spend my time today focusing on the HMICS report published this morning. I would like to thank HM Inspector Derek Penman and his team for their work.

This comprehensive piece of work has involved more engagement than any previous HMICS review. It included a public online questionnaire, an audit of calls and more than 85 interviews and 34 group discussions with police officers and staff.

Police Scotland contact, command and control centres manage around 500,000 999 calls and 3.24 million 101 calls a year.

The HMICS report provides a number of welcome assurances:

  • Staff levels are now stabilised at Bilston Glen, Motherwell and Govan and staff are committed to providing a good service to the public,
  • The grading, prioritisation and dispatch of officers works well for emergency and high priority calls;
  • Risk and vulnerability assessment is strong within the area control room environment,
  • New training is now in place for all new staff.
  • And the interim ICT solutions in place are fit for purpose

The report contains 30 recommendations, and Police Scotland has assured me that they will implement them all. The report confirms that significant progress has already been made but gives a clear direction to the SPA and Police Scotland where further improvements are needed. These include:

  • Governance and Programme Management
  • Staff communication and training
  • Technology and
  • Quality Assurance

I will deal with each of these in turn.

Firstly, the report contains a series of criticisms of programme management and the governance in place around the restructure programme.

While performance is now stabilised, it is essential that these issues are addressed before the remaining phases of the change programme are progressed.

I have discussed this with Andrew Flanagan, the Chair of the SPA, and Police Scotland. They have confirmed that:

  • independent experts will be brought in to provide strong assurances before any decision is considered regarding the implementation of proposed changes to Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness centres.

  • Police Scotland will establish a reference group of senior independent change and call handling professionals who will provide ongoing oversight and advice as the restructure is progressed.

Presiding Officer, the report also highlights concern about how staff expertise was captured in designing the change. It also echoes findings from the Police Scotland staff survey around communication and engagement.

I have made clear to Police Scotland my expectations around this recommendation and my strong conviction that investment in staff is as important if not more important than investment in systems.

To address this Police Scotland have confirmed that they will establish a programme dedicated to shaping the future of C3 and that will support clear and transparent engagement with all affected staff from here on.

I am also encouraged that Police Scotland has now put in place a training programme for all new entrants which will improve consistency across the country.

Moving on to technology, the report concludes that the interim solution is generally fit for purpose, but poor reliability and the ability to bypass certain aspects of the system is a risk.

Police Scotland plans to invest £15m in a new IT solution which will be a major step forward, and which I am assured will be subject to the stronger programme management approach now in place.

I have also been assured that Police Scotland has already put new processes in place to monitor compliance with procedures.

Ensuring strong quality assurance is the final theme I wish to touch on. The SPA have continued since April to monitor performance on a weekly basis. In future any dip in performance such as experienced in Bilston Glen earlier this year will become quickly apparent and will trigger rapid intervention.

Presiding Officer. The report confirms that a regional approach to call handling can deliver an effective service for communities across Scotland. The overall direction of the programme therefore remains fit for purpose, but the management of the change programme must be strengthened.

In welcoming the assurances provided by HMICS in this report around quality of customer service, call handling and grading I want to make sure that these standards are maintained the improvements being implemented by Police Scotland deliver the required improvements.

I have therefore asked HMICS to undertake a further programme of unannounced visits to Call Centres across the country.

This will begin with immediate effect and will be ongoing until the restructure is complete. I have requested that the outcome of these visits is reported back to Police Scotland, SPA and myself clearly identifying any actions that need to be addressed.

Presiding Officer, the Report recognises that the Scottish Government acted swiftly on the recommendation in the interim report by making £1.4 million of new money available.

This has already supported an active recruitment campaign in the north which has attracted a significant level of interest. The new money is also being used to deliver improved system reliability.

Presiding Officer, I want to close by stressing once again this government’s commitment to ensuring the public can have confidence in police contact, command and control functions. That is why I directed HMICS to undertake a review, and why I sought the earliest opportunity to update Parliament on its final report.

The report includes some hard messages for Police Scotland and I have been assured that all 30 of the recommendations will be accepted and actioned by them.

The report provides confidence that staffing levels are stabilised in the East and West and calls are being answered and actioned. New training is in place for all new staff and recruitment to support the next stages of restructure in the North is actively underway.

HMICS have provided assurance around ability of a regional model and both the SPA and Police Scotland will ensure independent checks are in place to monitor contact, command and control from here on and oversee the next stages of restructure.

As I said in September, there are challenges, but the fundamentals of our police service are sound. The actions I have set out today will build on those fundamentals to deliver a stronger service.

Be assured Presiding Officer, this government will continue to work tirelessly to strengthen policing in Scotland even further.