A WATCHDOG has been asked to bring forward a review of the Scottish Police Authority after the public body was likened to the Kremlin during a heated Holyrood committee meeting.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has written to HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, Derek Penman, asking him to “bring forward part of their planned statutory inspection into the operation of the Authority, scheduled for later this year, which relates to transparency”.
The request followed an extraordinary session of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee. Former SNP minister Alex Neil tore strips off SPA chair Andrew Flanagan for acting as if he was in charge of a “secret society”.
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The beleaguered body has been criticised for taking decisions in private and accused of keeping information from the public.
A former board member says she was badly treated for disagreeing with Flanagan.
Flanagan admitted to the cross-party group of MSPs that he had not shared a critical letter from Penman raising concerns about the authority’s governance with the rest of the SPA’s board.
In the letter, the inspector told Flanagan the SPA’s decision to hold meetings in private and to keep board papers classified until the day of the meeting was “at odds with your key principle of transparency and your commitment that the authority should be open and transparent and operate to the highest standards of public sector administration and management”.
Neil, who sits on the committee, said the letter should have been circulated to every board member, and that not to pass it on “breaches every rule in the book”. He suggested the board operated like a secret society and told Flanagan: “It is not the Kremlin you are running.”
Labour’s Monica Lennon asked Flanagan if he was a “control freak”.
Flanagan told MSPs: “I think we’ve made a number of substantial movements within the last 12 months based on the governance review. I think we are becoming more effective, I think it is important that we recognise that there is already a high and significant degree of openness through the public board meetings that we have which are second to none in terms of public bodies in Scotland.
“In terms of progress, [the 2026 policing strategy] represents the first time that we have had a clear direction of travel for policing in Scotland.
“I think we are on a journey. Is it perfect? No, it’s not perfect, but I think in the last 12 months or so there have been significant steps forward.
“I think we need to make sure that the board meetings aren’t perfunctory or rubber-stamping. I think we need to have open discussion at those board meetings.”