SPA Chair still in post as Justice Secretary delays action ‘to consider reports’. SCOTLAND’S Justice Secretary has ducked out of taking immediate action on tackling the leadership & governance crisis at the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) – despite calls from across the political spectrum to act on restoring faith at the discredited regulator of Police Scotland.
During ‘Topical Questions’ at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday of this week, where MSPs from all parties called for a resolution to the crisis at the Police Regulator, and Andrew Flanagan’s refusal to step aside, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said he was “conscious of the issues” and promised to consider the reports sent to him by the committees.
In Holyrood’s main chamber on Tuesday, Mary Fee MSP (Scottish Labour) told Michael Matheson that Andrew Flanagan had “lost the confidence of MSPs from all parties, including back benchers from the governing party.
“It is clear that his position is untenable. It seems that Mr Flanagan and the Justice Secretary are the last two people to see that.”
She called for a “drastic overhaul of how the SPA is run”.
Shying away from immediate action on the crisis at the Scottish Police Authority, Matheson replied: “I am sure that the member will recognise that it is important that ministers give thorough consideration to these issues in coming to a determination,”
The Justice Secretary added: “On the wider issue of the governance and structure of the SPA, there is no doubt that there are aspects of the way in which the SPA has operated over the past few years that have not worked as well as they should have and that there are areas in which I believe further improvements could be made.
“I have been clear about the need for the SPA to operate in an open and transparent manner as it undertakes its processes and considers matters, and I have repeatedly made that clear.”
LibDem MSP Liam McArthur argued that the SPA would “be inhibited in moving forward as long as he remains the chair”.
The Greens’ John Finnie suggested Flanagan’s managerial style, and the way in which he reportedly treated Ali, a woman of Bengali and Irish descent, would dissuade women and ethnic minority people to join public boards.
The Justice Committee expressed “very serious concerns about the standards of governance” at the body and said it “does not have confidence that the current chair is the best person to lead the board”.
Full report & video coverage of questions to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson at the Scottish Parliament:
Topical Question Time: Scottish Police Authority (Meetings)
1. Mary Fee (West Scotland) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Government when the Cabinet Secretary for Justice last met the Scottish Police Authority and what issues were discussed. (S5T-00571)
The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Michael Matheson): I have regular meetings with the chair of the Scottish Police Authority and meet the board approximately once a year. We discuss a range of key strategic issues in policing.
Mary Fee: As the cabinet secretary is aware, last week, the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing published its report on the governance of the SPA. That report says: “the Sub-Committee does not have confidence that the current chair is the best person to lead the Board.”
That follows similar concerns from the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee.
We know that, under the current leadership of Andrew Flanagan, public meetings were held in private and critical letters were hidden from board members, and we have heard about the disgraceful ousting of now former board member, Moi Ali.
Andrew Flanagan was appointed chair of the SPA to improve openness and accountability. He has failed. Does the cabinet secretary agree with me, with the Justice Sub-committee on Policing and with his own back benchers that Mr Flanagan’s position is untenable and that he should go?
Michael Matheson: I am conscious of the issues that have been raised by the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, which provided us with a copy of its report last Thursday. As I am sure that the member will recognise, we will give careful consideration to that report and its findings, along with the issues that have been highlighted by the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee and the evidence that that committee and the member’s sub-committee received. Once we have considered all those issues, we will be in a position to state clearly the Government’s response and our decision on the position of the chair of the SPA.
I am sure that the member will recognise that it is important that the ministers and Government consider these issues carefully. I can give the member an absolute assurance that we will consider the findings in the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing’s report as we arrive at the Scottish Government’s position on this matter.
Mary Fee: Andrew Flanagan has lost the confidence of MSPs from all parties, including back benchers from the governing party. It is clear that his position is untenable. It seems that Mr Flanagan and the justice secretary are the last two people to see that. We need a drastic overhaul of how the SPA is run, and that must start at the very top of the SPA board. We need leadership from the SPA, but we do not have that at the moment.
If Andrew Flanagan is not going to do the right thing and resign, we need leadership from the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government approved Andrew Flanagan’s appointment as chair. If the cabinet secretary will not withdraw that now, I simply ask what it will take for the Government to take action.
Michael Matheson: I have given the member an assurance that we will consider the findings of her sub-committee’s report. Once we have had the opportunity to consider them in detail, as well as the issues that have been raised by the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, we will be able to respond to these matters. I am sure that the member will recognise that it is important that ministers give thorough consideration to these issues in coming to a determination.
On the wider issue of the SPA’s structure, and the way in which the SPA operates, the member will be aware that I have asked Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary for Scotland to bring forward the governance aspect of its statutory inspection that was due to take place this year. HMICS has agreed to do that and intends to publish a report by 22 June on those issues. In its letter to me, the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee welcomed my decision to ask for that work to be undertaken.
It is important that we consider these issues, and I assure the member that we are considering them carefully, and we want to ensure that they are appropriately addressed.
On the wider issue of the governance and structure of the SPA, there is no doubt that there are aspects of the way in which the SPA has operated over the past few years that have not worked as well as they should have and that there are areas in which I believe further improvements could be made.
I have been clear about the need for the SPA to operate in an open and transparent manner as it undertakes its processes and considers matters, and I have repeatedly made that clear. However, there is no doubt that there have been improvements in the way in which the SPA has been operating. For example, as was set out in evidence that was given to the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, there have been improvements in the way in which the SPA has considered issues such as the contact, command and control division; improvements in the relationship between the SPA and the executive team in Police Scotland; and improvements in the way in which it has taken forward work on the development of the 2026 strategy.
Irrespective of that, I recognise the concerns that have been expressed by the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing and members of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee. I give the member an assurance that they will be considered carefully, and that the Government will come to a decision once it has considered all these matters.
Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con): The evidence from the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, MSPs of all parties and, indeed, former board members is clear: Andrew Flanagan’s time as chair of the Scottish Police Authority should be over, and his continuation in that post is untenable. Does the Scottish Government continue to have full faith in Andrew Flanagan as chair of the Scottish Police Authority—yes or no?
Michael Matheson: As I have just said to Mary Fee, we will consider the findings of both committees’ work in this area and we will then come to a decision on this issue.
I am surprised that a member who is, apparently, his party’s spokesman on justice would not want to ensure that we go through due process in considering these issues. It is important that Government ministers give careful consideration to these issues when coming to a decision, and that is exactly what we will do. Once we have completed that process, we will set out our decision on this matter.
John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green): It is my personal view that Mr Flanagan’s position is untenable and that he must go. The cabinet secretary will agree that we must have vibrant and diverse public boards. In his response to both committee reports, will he consider the impact that Mr Flanagan’s conduct has had on the likelihood of our being able to recruit women and ethnic minority people to these boards?
Michael Matheson: The member raises an important issue. This Government is clear about the need to have greater diversity on our public bodies. I recently made some further appointments to the SPA, and I have written to the chair of the SPA board in recent weeks, highlighting the need to have greater diversity on the board, as that is extremely important. It is also extremely important that, when ministers consider such issues, we follow due process in considering any concerns that are raised with us in order that we do not dissuade people from thinking about applying for appointments to public boards.
I assure the member that it is clear to me that we must do everything possible to increase diversity not just within the membership of the SPA board but on any boards within the justice setting and that the boards should take proactive measures to assist in achieving that. For example, it is not necessary to have direct appointments if there is no space for them, as members can be seconded to support the work of public bodies in order to encourage greater diversity and give those people experience of the work that the board undertakes with a view to their applying for a place on the board at some point in the future.
The Government is clear about the need for greater diversity in the scrutiny of legislation, and I am clear that we need greater diversity on all boards in the justice sector. Our recent track record on appointments to justice boards demonstrates that we are making significant progress by increasing the number of women members, in particular, and I am determined that we will continue to drive that forward.
Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD): The cabinet secretary will have heard Andrew Flanagan’s statement at the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing last week. There is no doubting that he was extremely contrite and offered an apology. However, a number of members made the point that the position that he holds has been undermined and that the SPA will be inhibited in moving forward as long as he remains the chair.
Given that, at the most recent SPA board meeting, which was held last week, concerns were again raised by board members about the publication of papers in advance of the meeting, does the cabinet secretary not believe that the culture shift that we all want to see in the SPA will be impossible until there is a change at the top?
Michael Matheson: The member will be aware that the SPA board decided, at its meeting 25 May, to return to the presumption that its committee meetings would take place in public and that all papers would be published in advance. I have been very clear with the SPA about the need to ensure that it is open and transparent in conducting its business.
The member will recognise that, as has been highlighted, there is a need for private space in some of the SPA board’s work, given the sensitive and confidential nature of some of the information that it is provided with. That is particularly the case when the information relates to operational matters for Police Scotland. A safe space needs to be provided for discussions and for the sharing of that information to take place.
Notwithstanding that, my view is that the presumption that committee and board meetings will take place in public is the right approach. That is why I have asked HMICS to bring forward the early part of its statutory inspection, which was due to take place in the autumn of this year, and to look specifically at the issue of governance within the SPA. That work has already been started and HMICS will report by 22 June. I have no doubt that the report will support us in looking at what further measures the SPA needs to put in place.
I recognise the need for the SPA to operate openly and transparently, and I have been clear with it, over an extended period, that the processes and mechanisms that it has in place must be able to deliver that openness and transparency effectively.
Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): We know that the chair of the Scottish Police Authority did not tell his board about a letter from Derek Penman that advised of the forthcoming inspection. Now, we understand that, on a previous occasion, Mr Flanagan did not share an advice note on forensic services with the board. Does the cabinet secretary believe that that is a further example of a lack of transparency? Does the chair of any public body who behaves in that way meet the Scottish Government’s own guidance for those who serve on public boards?
Michael Matheson: Jackie Baillie will be aware that Andrew Flanagan has accepted that he should have passed that note on to the other members of his board and that he made an unacceptable error. We need to ensure that chairs of any public bodies pass on relevant information to other members of the board to allow them to come to an informed position on matters when they are being discussed. The chair has also accepted that the advice note should have been passed on to board members. Again, we will consider that in looking at the matter as a whole.
I assure members that the Government will come to a position on the matter, but it is appropriate that we consider all the facts and information that have been provided. In part, that is for the reason that was highlighted by John Finnie, which is that we want to attract individuals to stand for and work on our public bodies. We need to ensure that ministers and the Government go through a due process in considering these matters and coming to a decision. My concern is that a failure to do that would dissuade people from taking up public appointments, and we want to avoid that. That is why we will consider these matters very carefully and in a detailed way, and we will then come to a decision.
CHAIR MUST GO - Crisis continues at Scottish Police Authority as Justice Secretary dodges duty:
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson’s refusal to sack Flanagan as the crisis in governance and leadership at the Police Watchdog continues to grow - comes after a string of stinging criticisms and revelations over poor governance at the Scottish Police Authority, and accusations the SPA was being run as a secret society.
Legal observers who have been following developments speculate more action, and a decision may have been taken much earlier on the status of the current SPA Chief and board, had now former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill held the justice brief.
Holyrood’s Justice Sub-Committee on policing said they had “no confidence” in Flanagan’s leadership, and criticised his decision to hold meetings in private and for his treatment of Moi Ali, a board member who spoke out against the move.
They were the second Scottish Parliament committee to express concerns about the SPA’s governance.
Members of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny (PAPLS) Committee have also criticised Andrew Flanagan for his treatment of board member Moi Ali, who was forced to resign from the Police Watchdog after speaking out over concerns about transparency and the publication of papers for board meetings.
A full report on the PAPLS meeting of 20 April can be found here: POLICING SECRETS: Former Scottish Police Authority board member Moi Ali invited to give evidence at Holyrood, after MSPs accuse SPA bosses of running Police watchdog like Kremlin ‘secret society’
A full report on the second PAPLS hearing of 11 May can be found here: UNFIT AUTHORITY: Chair of Scottish Police Authority “is not fit to continue on any public board” – says former SPA board member in evidence to Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee scrutiny of Police watchdog.
A more detailed report on the 18th May 2017 hearing of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing can be found here: AUTHORITY LOST: Chair of Scottish Police Authority refuses to resign after facing challenge from Justice Committee MSPs to consider his position on discredited Police watchdog.
A further article on the Justice sub Committee on Policing’s report into the crisis at the Scottish Police Authority can be viewed here: NO CONFIDENCE: Chair of Scottish Police Authority refuses to stand down, as board member criticises Holyrood scrutiny of governance, secrecy culture & lack of accountability at discredited Police watchdog
The report from the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing can be found here: Justice Sub Committee on Policing Report on Governance of the Scottish Police Authority
According to declarations on the SPA website, Andrew Flanagan also holds positions on the Civil Service Commission, NHS Business Services Authority, London-based NEL Commissioning Support Unit, and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, positions he earns up to £75,000 a year in addition to his £70K salary as SPA Chair.
Flanagan’s decision to remain in office comes after members of Holyrood’s Justice Committee said in a report they had “serious concerns”in the current SPA Board – which has responsibility for oversight and spending of the £1.1 billion Police Scotland budget.
Responding to the Justice Committee’s criticisms of the SPA and their report SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan refused to stand down.
Mr Flanagan said: "As I have already done with the views of other parliamentarians, I and the SPA Board will consider this report very carefully over the coming days and reflect on its contents.
"As I indicated in my evidence to the Committee, I have publicly acknowledged recent mistakes without caveat or qualification. I also believe that in my time in office I have brought much improvement and clarity to the strategy, governance, sustainability, and relationships within policing.”
"I remain focussed on building a broad consensus around my continuing leadership of the SPA, and my contribution to a stable and collaborative leadership within policing as a whole.”
SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan’s decision to stay in the lead role at the now discredited Scottish Police Authority comes after one of it’s Board members – Graham Houston – launched a blistering attack on open hearings at the Scottish Parliament’s PAPLS Committee' – after it’s members quizzed the Chair & CEO of the SPA, along with Scottish Government Civil Servants at an earlier meeting of 20 April 2017.
Criticising MSPs scrutiny of the Scottish Police Authority, Board member Graham Houston said: “I also think as an example of good governance I think the treatment of my fellow board members by an audit and scrutiny committee was frankly appalling and I think if that is an example of what is expected of good scrutiny it leaves a lot to be desired. And I suggest that the members of that committee look to themselves about setting an example and also look to the guidance on board about how they conduct themselves in doing that.”
Mr Houston then attacked the media, accusing the press of abusing the ‘openness’ of the SPA and concludes by stating “I think that what will transpire is that probably we are one of the most open public authorities in Scotland.”
Video footage of Graham Houston’s criticisms of MSPs scrutiny of the SPA can be found here: Scottish Police Authority Board Member Graham Houston hits out at PAPLS scrutiny of Police Watchdog.
A glimpse into the world of the Scottish Police Authority’s board meetings features an excerpt from the SPA’s meeting of 15 December 2016, in which Board Member Moi Ali raised serious concerns about recommendations in relation to the publication on the day of board meetings and the holding of committees in private.
More on the discussion around the Governance Framework and input from Moi Ali who raised her concerns at the meeting can be viewed in video footage here: Scottish Police Authority 15 December 2016 meeting Governance framework discussion.
Ms Ali said she understood there were good reasons for those recommendations she had serious concerns about the lack of transparency around the two proposals, and that there were real drawbacks in relation to holding committee meetings in private.
Moi Ali said her concerns were two fold – the perception issue in relation to private meetings where it may be perceived that decisions may be taken behind closed doors, and that defacto decision may well be taken behind closed doors and that the process of decision making will be hidden and there is a danger in due course this will morph into a different kind of body in which effectively real decisions are taken albeit not in name but then come back to the SPA Board for rubber stamping rather than transparent debate.
While Flanagan still clings to power, the Justice Committee expressed “very serious concerns about the standards of governance” at the body and said it “does not have confidence that the current chair is the best person to lead the board”.
Previous articles on the Scottish Police Authority can be found here: Scottish Police Authority - Poor governance, private meetings & lack of accountability at Police regulator