Former SPA member Moi Ali - SPA Chair Flanagan not fit on any public board THE CHAIR of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) is under pressure to resign after heavy criticism from MSPs and former SPA Board member Moi Ali - who gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee (PAPLS) earlier this week.
Andrew Flanagan – appointed by the Scottish Government to run the accident prone Scottish Police Authority was described at the hearing on Thursday as “…not fit to continue on any public board, because he clearly does not observe public sector values” .
The hard hitting criticism came from former SPA Board member Moi Ali, who was invited to appear before MSPs after Flanagan had and others from the Police Watchdog had been accused at a previous PAPLS hearing of being run – by Flanagan – as a Kremlin style “secret society”.
In an exchange between Monica Lennon MSP and the former SPA board member, Ms Lennon asked: “Given the letter and what you have just said about feeling bullied, do you think that Andrew Flanagan is fit to continue as chair of the Scottish Police Authority?”
In her response, Moi Ali gave a highly critical account of the SPA Chair’s position, stating : “I am afraid that I do not. He is actually not fit to continue on any public board, because he clearly does not observe public sector values. However, the Scottish Police Authority is in a different league, because an oversight body that oversees policing has to set even higher standards of corporate governance, and he has clearly not observed those standards.”
Sharp exchanges between members of the Public Audit Committee and remaining SPA board members continued, with Alex Neil MSP commenting a “collective amnesia” appeared to be affecting several of the remaining SPA board members – including David Hume.
Hume sat on a Governance Review of the SPA, along with a former President of the Law Society of Scotland, the Chair of the Fire Service and others. Mr Hume is the former Chief Executive of Scottish Borders Council.
In 2012 it was reported David Hume took a £318,434 secret “too ill to work again” secret legal deal from the corruption ridden south of Scotland local authority.
Hume then joined the SPA while also working for the Scottish Government in a position on Children’s Hearings Scotland. Hume’s salary for the CHS work was funnelled through his consultancy company – Enlighten: David Hume Consulting Ltd.
Hume’s term as SBC Chief Executive span dark years at the local authority, financial scandals with the loss of £4million from the education budget, consistent allegations of a culture of backhanders at the council, and a lack of duty of care.
Scottish Borders Council had been caught up in the Miss X Rape scandal, resulting in a Scottish Parliament inquiry which heard the Council had covered up a years long case where a severely disabled woman who lived close to the Council’s St Boswell’s HQ was repeatedly raped and abused. It transpired Scottish Borders Council held a written admission of rape from the man a full two years before the case came to light. A man was later jailed for 10 years for the crimes.
Scottish Borders Council decided not to discipline any social worker, despite the fact that Miss X, a woman with learning disabilities, had been subjected to an appalling catalogue of violent physical and sexual abuse.
Stopping short of calling for Andrew Flanagan’s resignation, the acting Convener of the Public Audit Committee released a statement yesterday, following the release of a letter sent by the Public Audit Committee to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson.
The letter from the committee claimed the Chair of the Scottish Police Authority - Andrew Flanagan - appears to have “behaved inappropriately”.
In the letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson, the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee raised serious concerns about the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) Chair Andrew Flanagan.
Within the highly critical letter, the Committee said it appeared that Mr Flanagan treated former SPA board member Moi Ali in a manner that meant she felt “obliged to resign from the board”.
The letter also highlights the need to improve diversity on the SPA board, stating that the current board is “male-dominated” and in need of significant cultural change.
Acting Convener of the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee, Jackie Baillie MSP, said: “The Committee considers Mr Flanagan’s behaviour to be unacceptable on occasion. We would be extremely worried if potential board members were put off from applying to the SPA board because of this.”
“Clearly, the SPA has a lot of work to do in improving transparency at the very heart of the organisation – only then will it be able to gain public confidence.”
The SPA have refused to give further comment on that already given by Andrew Flanagan during the meeting of the Public Audit Committee on 20 April, more of which can be read 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 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 here:
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.
Given there is a public interest in the way public bodies operate in Scotland, and that it is generally accepted among the media that the way in which the SPA is acting, does reflect a level of less than satisfactory operation across other public bodies in Scotland, excerpts of the meeting are reprinted to give readers a flavour of the exchanges as they were reported in the Official report issued by the Scottish Parliament.
Video footage of the PAPLS hearing follows:
Former SPA Board member Moi Ali’s opening statement to the Public Audit & Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee is reprinted below, and is contained in the report issued by the PAPLS Committee published here: Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee 11 May 2017
Moi Ali: Good morning and thank you for the invitation. There is much in Andrew Flanagan’s evidence to the committee to take issue with but, even if his account is to be believed, it raises fundamental corporate governance issues. He knew my views on the governance framework but told the committee that he did not expect me to voice them in public. Should a chair suppress respectful, open debate? He wrote of the value of being seen to be a united board. Where, then, can alternative views be discussed? Can that be done only in private? That seems to me not a good option.
Andrew Flanagan told the committee that dissent is okay, but his letter to me talked about how sharing public disagreement was a resigning matter. Why should members, who have accepted collective responsibility, resign? That is not what the Government’s “On Board” guidance says. Do SPA members now feel constrained about expressing their views in public? Surely that is not good for governance.
The chair claims that his concern was that I did not communicate my intentions in advance. Should board members enter meetings with their minds made up and their position pre-shared? It is clear that doing so would turn board meetings into theatre and board members into actors. In my view, my removal from committees was a straightforward punishment for speaking out. The “On Board” guidance says that members must participate in committees and, equally, that the chair should lead by example. What kind of an example was removing me from committees?
A key question is whether Andrew Flanagan observed the nine principles of public life in Scotland, which include openness, honesty, leadership, respect and integrity. Was withholding Derek Penman’s letter from the board an act of integrity? The “On Board” guidance states:
“It is important that nothing you do or say ... as a Board member tarnishes in any way the reputation of the ... Board.”
Have Andrew Flanagan’s recent actions damaged the SPA? News reports some five months after the event talked of haemorrhaging confidence in the beleaguered, embattled, control-freak chair and of a Kremlin-style, crisis-hit, secret society board. None of those are my words; in fact, some of them are the committee’s words.
The chair’s style shapes board culture. Did the board ask to see the HMICS letter? Did the board ask why it had not been shared? Was there any discussion of why the chair believed that I should resign? Has any board member questioned Andrew Flanagan about his evidence to this committee? The “On Board” guidance states that board members “should not hesitate to challenge the Chair if you believe that a decision is wrong”.
Did the board members therefore believe that the decisions were right?
Before board members approved the governance framework, they were aware of key stakeholders’ concerns. First, they discussed Audit Scotland’s report, which said that SPA board and committee papers were sometimes insufficiently transparent and issued only on the day of the meeting and that some papers that were taken in private could have been heard in public. Audit Scotland questioned whether the SPA demonstrated
“high standards of corporate governance at all times including openness and transparency in decision making.”
Secondly, board members knew that the internal auditors had questioned whether the proposals complied with best practice. Thirdly, they knew that at least one local authority had raised issues and concerns. Fourthly, colleagues knew that the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, which created the SPA, says:
“The Authority must ensure that its proceedings and those of its committees and sub-committees are held in public”, and that “The Authority must try to carry out its functions in a way which is proportionate, accountable and transparent and which is consistent with any principle of good governance which appears to it to constitute best practice.”
I will summarise the position in a few points. The decision on private committees and last-minute publication of papers was contrary to statute and against the spirit of public service accountability; the board and the chief executive ignored Government guidance and stakeholders’ concerns; the chair was wrong in trying to suppress information and debate and in punishing me for taking a principled stance in public that was consistent with my well-known private view; and the board appears to have failed to challenge, given that three months after the initial decision, the board still felt no need to revise it.
Finally, the ensuing reputational damage has diminished public confidence in an important public body. Policing has to operate within the law and earn the confidence of the public, and so, too, does its oversight body.
Monica Lennon: I move on to a question for Moi Ali. Ms Ali, I have read the letter that Andrew Flanagan sent to you in December after you had raised two objections to part of the governance review. Do you think that that letter amounted to bullying?
Moi Ali: Yes, I believe that it did. A good leader, if he had any concerns, would surely speak to an individual—I think that we would all do that. It is hard to find another word to describe what a letter of that nature amounts to.
Monica Lennon: Do you feel quite sad about the experience? Do you feel that you have been driven out?
Moi Ali: Yes, I do. It has been a really horrendous experience. I am quite surprised that, five months after I received the letter, we are still talking about it. It has been a very difficult thing to live through, particularly as I have been outside all this, on my own, without access to materials. Because I was coming here today, I asked for information from the SPA—not private information, but information about meetings that I attended, information that I had previously held—and I was denied that. I have been very much pushed to the outside.
What has transpired as a result of the letter is exactly what I said would happen. I asked for a meeting with Andrew Flanagan almost immediately—on the first working day—after I received the letter, but for a variety of reasons that simply did not happen.
Monica Lennon: In a previous evidence session, I asked Andrew Flanagan whether he recognised that his conduct could be perceived as control freakery, and he did not accept that characterisation. In the time that I have been pursuing these questions, it has struck me that the SPA is very much a male-dominated organisation. Do you believe that he would have sent the same letter to a man?
Moi Ali: No, I do not think that he would. After I received it, I spoke to Iain Whyte, because he had expressed similar views to mine at the board meeting. The only difference was that he did not ask for his views to be minuted. In a way, the minuting is irrelevant because the meeting was live streamed and recorded for posterity, but he raised very similar issues. I think that his words were, “I share many of the concerns that Moi has raised.”
He pushed on the point that I pushed on about whether the proposals conformed with best practice. I asked Iain Whyte whether he had received a similar letter and he said that he had not.
Monica Lennon: Given the letter and what you have just said about feeling bullied, do you think that Andrew Flanagan is fit to continue as chair of the Scottish Police Authority?
Moi Ali: I am afraid that I do not. He is actually not fit to continue on any public board, because he clearly does not observe public sector values. However, the Scottish Police Authority is in a different league, because an oversight body that oversees policing has to set even higher standards of corporate governance, and he has clearly not observed those standards.
In sharp exchanges between PAPLS Committee member Alex Neil & those giving evidence, the report of the meeting publishes the following excerpt:
Alex Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): Mr Barbour, in your submission you said that, in relation to the selection of a new chief constable, you had written:
“My real worry is that interested parties identify a preferred candidate and try to influence the selection criteria accordingly.”
Will you be more specific about that?
Brian Barbour: It was a general fear of mine, and I was sharing my thoughts. That memo was written to the chair, who I had not yet met, on the day that I left the SPA. It was my thoughts on moving forward, including things that were good about the board and things that needed to be changed. In the memo I expressed concern that we had had regular intervention. It was a legitimate worry of mine that people might have been wanting to fit the criteria to the person, rather than the board being absolutely clear about the criteria for the right chief constable, and then going through the interview process to see who matched the criteria.
Alex Neil: Were the people you were referring to members of the board?
Brian Barbour: No, the people I was referring to were external influences outwith the board.
Alex Neil: So who are you talking about?
Brian Barbour: I am talking about people in Government, by which I mean both the political side and the official side.
Alex Neil: Were you talking about the civil service?
Brian Barbour: I was talking about the civil service and, potentially, the cabinet secretary, if he had expressed an interest. However, I was not privy to that kind of discussion.
Alex Neil: Do you have any evidence of that?
Brian Barbour: No, which is why I was expressing it as a worry. I was not saying that I had evidence to say that it was happening; I was being open with the chair and saying that it was a concern of mine.
Alex Neil: To be fair, in your submission you should have made it clear that you did not have any evidence and that it was just a feeling.
Brian Barbour: My submission has a verbatim extract from my email to the chair. It said “My real worry”, not “I have seen evidence”. I was very specific.
Alex Neil: However, worries that are publicly expressed should be evidence backed.
Brian Barbour: Indeed.
Alex Neil: Moi Ali, this morning you said that you had sought information for this meeting from the SPA that is publicly available, and you were refused that. What information was it, who refused it and why?
Moi Ali: To clarify, the information was not publicly available, but it was readily available to the SPA. In other words, it would not have been onerous for the SPA to produce it.
Alex Neil: But it was not marked “Private and confidential”.
Moi Ali: I do not know. It was information relating to private meetings, but they were meetings that I attended, so I was not asking for information that I would not have. I will give you examples: I wanted the October, November and December audit committee minutes. I also wanted the minutes of the members meetings—you have received extracts of them, but I wanted the full minutes. I wanted earlier drafts, because one had changed significantly. I had two earlier drafts, and they are very different from the one that you have.
I wanted those documents to get the complete picture. The reason that I was given for being refused them was that it was important to have a level playing field and for everybody to have the same information. I said that I understood that and was perfectly happy for everybody to have the same information.
In fact, my concern was that there was not a level playing field. My colleagues here have that information. I used to have it, because I had an SPA BlackBerry and iPad, and the information was on them. Because I no longer have them, I no longer have the information, yet my colleagues here have it. The argument about a level playing field was being used to deny me that information.
I was then told that, if my colleagues asked for it, I would be given it, but they would not ask for it because they have it. It was a catch-22 situation. As late as 6 o’clock last night, I received a further email saying that some of the information would be made available to me under a subject access request, which I have had to make, but obviously the SPA has 40 days in which to comply with that, so it is of no use to me for today’s meeting.
Alex Neil:The level playing field reason suggests that the SPA saw this as a bit of a bun fight between you and the other board members.
Moi Ali: I think that it feels that I am on the outside and therefore no longer have the same rights as my former colleagues have to information that I previously held. Regardless of whether you want to call that a bun fight or whatever, I am at a disadvantage. I have this one sheet of paper, and my colleagues have files of information.
Alex Neil: Who refused your request?
Moi Ali: The chief executive refused it.
Alex Neil: The chief executive refused it.
Moi Ali: I went via the Scottish Government, because when I asked for information on a previous occasion it was shredded after I made the request. On this occasion I went via Paul Johnston.
Alex Neil: Just stop there. Tell me about that. You made an earlier request for information—
Moi Ali: It was not to do with this committee, but on the only other occasion when I asked the SPA for information, the chief executive wrote to me—I am happy to produce the email—saying that the information had been securely disposed of.
Alex Neil: After you had made the request.
Moi Ali: After I had made the request.
Alex Neil: What was that information?
Moi Ali: I stress that this relates to the previous chair but the same chief executive. I had asked for information when the chair had said that I was a one-trick diversity pony.
Alex Neil:Was it the previous chairman who said that?
Moi Ali: Yes, it was the previous chair. He told me that it was not him saying that, but HMICS. When I said that I did not believe that that was the case or that HMICS would use that terminology and that I wanted to see the information, I was told that I could not have it. Therefore, I made a formal request.
Alex Neil:Was it written information?
Moi Ali:Yes—he had been reading from a piece of paper.
Alex Neil:Was it a minute of a meeting or something like that?
Moi Ali:It was part of the appraisal process. He read that phrase from a document. On three occasions, I asked for that information but was told that I could not have it. When I made a formal request, the chief executive wrote to me to say that the information had been securely disposed of.
Alex Neil:Who was the author of that disgusting statement?
Moi Ali:The previous chair. That was part of a whole process that has been dealt with, so I am not—
Alex Neil:How was it dealt with?
Moi Ali:I was not the only person with concerns—other board members had concerns, and the Scottish Government addressed the issue.
Alex Neil:How did the Government address it?
The Acting Convener:The chair is no longer the chair.
Moi Ali:That is right—thank you.
Alex Neil:Yes, but it was not over that issue that they are no longer the chair, was it?
Moi Ali:That was part of—
Alex Neil:It is quite serious for a chief executive of a public body to preside over such a situation. First of all, the original phraseology is clearly totally unacceptable. If you are saying that the chief executive had the information destroyed after—
Moi Ali:Sorry to interrupt, but I want to clarify that he did not destroy the information; rather, he wrote to me informing me that it had been destroyed. When I asked about who did that and when and why that had happened, I did not receive that information. I do not think that the chief executive destroyed the information. My point is that I had previously tried to get information that was important to me. Following that incident, I now knew what could happen to such information. I am happy to produce the email that said that the information had been disposed of.
Alex Neil:To be clear, are you saying that the information was destroyed after you have made the request?
Moi Ali:Yes, that is correct.
Alex Neil:I think that we need to get much more information on that situation, convener, because it is totally unacceptable. Even though it is a historical event, the same chief executive is in post, and if he is prepared to do that there is something serious in the organisation—
Moi Ali:I confirm that, to the best of my knowledge, he did not shred the information.
Alex Neil:He did not do it; nevertheless, he is the accountable officer.
Alex Neil:Clearly, that should not have happened. The chief executive refused you the information for today’s meeting.
Moi Ali:Yes, that is correct. I wrote to him via the Scottish Government, because it was aware of the previous issue. I spoke to Paul Johnston following the meeting here. He was aware of what had happened previously. Given what had happened before, I told him that I did not have confidence that I would be given the information that I needed. He told me that that was fine and I could make the request through him. Therefore, I wrote to him setting out the information that I required. He then made the request. Days went by and I did not receive the information. I was asking for straightforward information. I chased it up and was told that the chief executive was about to leave the office and that he would not be in on the following Monday. I said that it was urgent, because I was going to be working in London and that I needed the information to prepare. A lot of emails went to and fro.
The Scottish Government was involved—officials spoke to me and to the chief executive. They were supportive and helpful, but they were unable to secure the information that I needed. All that I have is the information that is in the public domain on this committee’s website. I do not have any of the information that I had asked for.
Alex Neil:What are the three non-executive directors going to do about this? The situation is clearly unacceptable.
George Graham:First, I reassure members and Moi Ali that I do not feel like I am in a bun fight with her. She is a former colleague and I very much respect her position—
Alex Neil:Clearly, the chief executive thinks that.
George Graham:I do not feel like I am in a bun fight. However, I do not feel that I have a host of information. I have my opening statement and that is it. Yesterday, the clerk to this committee put out a note saying, “No more information, please,” as there was so much coming in, so I suspect—
Alex Neil:Mr Graham, will you answer the question? What are you going to do about the refusal to give Moi Ali the information and about the fact that it appears that, in the previous incident, although the chief executive did not get rid of the paperwork himself, somebody in the organisation clearly did so after a request was made? That is very serious for an organisation that you have been telling us all morning is running well and is full of improvement, with everything being above board, open and transparent. It is anything but.
George Graham:I think that you made a number of assertions there that I have not made. I do not think that everything is running well and that everything is above board. I know that we can improve and get better, so please—
Alex Neil:What are you going to do about this?
George Graham:If you would let me answer, please, that would be helpful.
In relation to the information that Moi Ali asked for yesterday, all that I can do is research why the situation happened in the way that it did and see whether we can put that right. I do not know why that information was refused as I do not know enough about it, but I undertake to look into that and see.
On the historical issue that Moi Ali has raised, again, I do not know anything about that, but if she wishes to raise it again, we will of course explore it and make sure that that kind of thing does not happen. The historical situation that has been described does not reflect the way that we in the SPA would like our officials to deal with such information requests.
Alex Neil:Clearly, however, that appears to be happening. Obviously, you have to find out the other side of the story before you decide what you want to do about it, but I need a guarantee from the three non-executives that such things will not be allowed to happen with no investigation and no appropriate action, because it clearly breaches every rule and principle in the book on openness and transparency.
George Graham:I can certainly reassure you that we will explore the situation.
Iain Whyte:We will happily go back to the chief executive and question why that information has not been—
Alex Neil:Will you come back to us and tell us what is happening?
Iain Whyte:Yes, and I am sure that we can ask the chief executive to provide you with full details.
Alex Neil:Absolutely. I think that we should bring him back to the committee, actually.
Iain Whyte:My understanding is that the previous incident that Moi Ali mentioned was subject to a complaints process and that there was an outcome. I do not know whether she is content with that, but she understands the outcome. The matter was dealt with through a historical process.
The Acting Convener:I will address a comment that Mr Graham made, because I think that it is important to do so. The committee requested full minutes but we were provided with extracts. If the chief executive and his staff can take the time to extract information, they can surely take the time to provide information to others. We put a time bar on information because it is disrespectful to committee members to provide at the 11th hour bundles more information that is not urgent.
George Graham:I understand that.
The Acting Convener:Okay. Thank you.
Alex Neil:Just to add to that, convener, I ask that we get a copy of all the information that Moi Ali asked for and was refused.
I have a further question for the non-executive directors. I think that both Mr Whyte and Mr Hume have confirmed that they dissented on certain issues at the board meeting, as did Moi Ali, but that did not appear in the minutes.
David Hume:Can I clarify that? My dissent was in relation to a previous discussion about governance that took place in June 2015, and I said that at the time. I have the minute from that meeting in front of me. There were two decisions. With regard to the first decision, Brian Barbour and I are recorded as dissenting—
Alex Neil:So it is in that minute.
David Hume:—and with regard to the second decision, I am shown as dissenting. I have that here.
Alex Neil:Right. That has not been—
Iain Whyte:I clarify that I indicated that I had raised a number of questions at different points but that I did not record dissent to the decisions that were made.
The Acting Convener:We have not received any of that information. I do not doubt the veracity of what you are telling us, but the SPA chief executive has chosen not to provide us with that information. That is the only conclusion that I can draw.
Mr Penman, you wanted to come in, and then I will go back to Alex Neil.
Derek Penman:I assure you that we will request and review all the minutes—unredacted, and not extracts from them. Clearly, whether they are released publicly will be a matter for you, but we will do that. We will also include the comments that have been made today in terms of historical issues and consistency.
The Acting Convener:That is very helpful.
Alex Neil:That would be very helpful indeed. Clearly, the request was not a formal freedom of information request, but it appeared to be a reasonable request that should have been fulfilled. The behaviour in that regard is part of the problem with the culture of the organisation: it appears to be one of secrecy and non-co-operation with people, which is not acceptable.
Iain Whyte:I do not know the details of why the chief executive has put forward certain parts of minutes and not others. All that I can tell you is that some of the minutes that Moi Ali requested were from private meetings and some were from the members meetings. Among the issues that were discussed, there might be sensitive matters relating to security issues that could not be released publicly and there might also be financial and commercial discussions in there that would obviously be exempt from FOI because it would be to the detriment of the public service were they released. It may be something to do with that, but I do not know. However, I ask that the committee handle any information sensitively for those reasons.
Alex Neil:You can make a robust request and get in first before any excuses are made. As a non-executive director, your role is to challenge and be robust.
Alex Neil:But it seems that you may have made your mind up already.
Iain Whyte:No. I am conscious that some of the things in those meetings may be appropriately heard in private even under FOI legislation.
The Acting Convener:I hear what you are saying but, with all due respect, we are referring to extracts that deal only with governance and nothing else. We have requested minutes and, had there been a request to redact certain things that were sensitive, I am sure that the committee would have looked at that and considered it, as appropriate. However, there is nothing like that in those minutes. The fact that your dissent and Mr Hume’s dissent are not recorded is actually not helpful to the committee’s considerations and I hope that you will take that back to the SPA.
Iain Whyte:I will clarify this yet again. I have said it twice now. The dissent that Mr Hume was talking about was recorded in a public meeting back in June 2015. I did not record dissent at any point. I have said that twice and I would like to clarify that.
The Acting Convener:Okay.
Alex Neil:We will make sure that that is in our minutes.
The Acting Convener:Carry on, Mr Neil.
Alex Neil:I want to focus on the role of the non-executive directors, having been a non-executive director of a number of companies myself, which are obviously operating in the public sector. I will start with the letter from Derek Penman to the chair prior to the December board meeting. Despite the explicit request in the letter to the chair, which Mr Penman confirmed this morning was the case, that the letter be circulated to the board for the December meeting, not only was it not circulated, the chief executive was not even informed by the chair at the time of the existence of the letter, let alone of its contents. I ask you three: when did you find out about the letter and when did you get to read it? Have you read it?
David Hume:Yes. I have it in front of me.
Alex Neil:When did you get it?
David Hume:I cannot recall.
Alex Neil:Here is the collective amnesia again.
David Hume:No, it is not that.
Alex Neil:Amnesia must be contagious in the SPA.
David Hume:No, that is not the case.
Alex Neil:So, roughly when did you get the letter?
David Hume:In recent times.
Alex Neil:How recent? Was it last week or last month? Did you get it in December or January?
David Hume:I do not date stamp material that I get, but I think that I got the letter within the past month. However, as I said earlier, we had a full discussion of HMICS’s view.
Alex Neil:I have heard all that, and my question is not about that. Can Mr Graham and Mr Whyte tell me when they got a copy of the letter and whether they have read it?
George Graham:Yes, I have now read the letter, the full detail of which was apparent to me about two or three weeks ago.
Iain Whyte:It is exactly the same for me. I have a copy of it with me, but I had not seen it until the issue arose at this committee.
Alex Neil:My next question is the obvious one. You are non-executive directors. Part of your function is to make sure that the board is above board and transparent. That is all in your remit and in the nine principles that were referred to earlier. When did you ask the chair why you had not received a copy of the letter from the inspector, who had specifically requested that you all get a copy before the December meeting? When did you take the chair to task for not circulating that letter?
David Hume:Before we answer that, I want to bring us back to the HMICS letter. As I have just confirmed with the chief inspector, who is sitting next to me, the letter says:
“I accept that it will properly be a matter for the Board to approve the Corporate Governance Framework and my comments are intended solely to inform members ahead of their decision next week.”
David Hume:I think that, on the basis of conversations that I had had with Derek Penman, and conversations with both Moi Ali and George Graham, I went into that meeting fully aware of the views of HMICS.
Alex Neil:But that is not the point, Mr Hume. The point is that the chief inspector asked the chair to circulate the letter to every board member, which should have been done. If I had been a non-executive director and had found out much later that I had not received that letter but got it only by accident because the chair got a roasting at this committee, I would have been on to the chair to demand that future letters like that, in which there is clearly interest and there is a request for it to be circulated to the board, would be circulated.
David Hume:Indeed. Absolutely.
Alex Neil:If you are not prepared to do that, you are not fit to be a non-executive director. You are there to hold the chair, among others, to account.
David Hume:We are quite aware of that. The letter—
Alex Neil:You do not seem to be. You are making excuses for him.
Alex Neil:Why have you not complained to the chair that the letter was not circulated, as requested by the inspector? One of the things that were announced in the letter was the new review and inspection by the inspector.
Alex Neil:You did not actually know that, formally.
David Hume:I did.
Alex Neil:No—you did not, formally.
David Hume:Well, he told me.
Alex Neil:No—he did not tell you formally; it has to go to the board. If that is the level of scrutiny that you are exercising as a non-executive director, I find it wholly inadequate. You are supposed to hold the chair to account. If the chair has not circulated a letter from the inspector, who has specifically asked that the board see it, irrespective of whether you already knew the information, perhaps not every other board member knew all of it. The point is that, if the inspector wanted it to be circulated, surely it should have been circulated. Surely, as a former inspector, Mr Graham, you would have expected that to happen.
George Graham:Yes. You have made a number of assertions. There is a fair bit of relationship informality that definitely happens but, with hindsight—and I am sure that the chair will have reflected on this since the committee meeting with him a fortnight or so ago that you described—I certainly would have appreciated seeing the detail of that letter.
Alex Neil:Have you now made it clear to the chair that you do not expect a repeat of that in future?
George Graham:I have not had that conversation.
Alex Neil:Is it not time that you did?
George Graham:It may well be.
Alex Neil:Are you going to?
George Graham:I think that the most important—
Alex Neil:Are you going to?
George Graham:You can keep asking me that question—
Alex Neil:Well, are you going to?
George Graham:—but I would like to give you a full answer, Mr Neil.
Alex Neil:Yes or no—are you going to tell the chair that you do not want it to happen again?
George Graham:I have great respect for how the chair is managing business. I certainly do not want a whole host of issues to come up. I would have a discussion with him in which I say that it would have been useful to see a letter that specifically says that it should be sent to the board. So my answer is yes.
Alex Neil:Mr Whyte?
Iain Whyte:Which bit would you like me to answer?
Alex Neil:Have you complained to the chair that the letter was not circulated as requested?
Iain Whyte:No—I have not complained to the chair.
Alex Neil:Why not?
Iain Whyte:Like others here, I was fully aware of the views of HMICS, so, in a sense, they had already been factored into the decision making that we had.
Derek Penman:If I may add to that, although I had conversations with all the members of the board and they would have been clear on my intention and my views, the letter, which I think extends to three pages, went into some nuance and detail around that.
Derek Penman:There were things in there that I know that I would not have discussed with members. Without wanting to be objectionable about it, the letter contained a level of detail that I would not have had the opportunity to explain in conversations on the margins with members.
My other point is to clarify our position and to correct the evidence. When I sent the letter to the SPA, which was on 9 December, it was copied to the chief executive.
Alex Neil:He told this committee that he had not seen it.
Derek Penman:I am offering to correct that evidence, in terms of our recollection of the—
Alex Neil:Having heard what the chief inspector has just said, are you now prepared to go to the chair and say that this is totally unacceptable?
George Graham:I have always been prepared to have that discussion. The chair himself will reflect on exactly the information that he discussed with you a fortnight or so ago.
Alex Neil:You are not leaving us with a lot of confidence that you are doing the proper job of a non-executive director, I have to say.
George Graham: Can I just come back on that? It is wonderful that you can make such assertions, but there are an awful lot of really good things that we do as a body.
Alex Neil: I have no doubt.
George Graham: The focus on one singular point of failure, if you want to call it that—the failure to circulate a letter, which was a deliberate judgment on someone’s behalf—and then to describe the board as inadequate is a poor characterisation of what we are doing. I certainly feel quite passionate about policing. I am in this for only one purpose—to help the Police Service of Scotland deliver the very best it can for communities—so to come in here and hear you assert that, because of one particular issue, we are inadequate as a board is unfair.
Alex Neil: Just a minute. You are being paid as a non-executive director. You are getting paid by the public as a non-executive director, and—
George Graham: I am quite simply—
Alex Neil: Let me finish. You are not doing the job.
George Graham: I am simply disagreeing—
The Acting Convener: Mr Graham—
George Graham: I am quite simply disagreeing with your assertion, and I am entitled to do that.
The Acting Convener: We are not going to get very far collectively this morning if we shout at one another, and if you talk over me again, Mr Graham, your microphone will be cut off. Equally, I would say to members that there are passions round the table, but let us try to lower the temperature. Nevertheless, we will still be seeking answers and we will be robust in our scrutiny, and nothing will stop the committee doing that.
Alex Neil: I just want to make the point that it is not a one-off. Ever since the board was set up, there have been problems, time after time after time. What the chief inspector has just said must be taken very seriously by every member of the board. I absolutely appreciate Mr Graham’s former service and the fact that he is committed to the future of the police service, and he has a good track record of serving the nation and the police. However, in your new role as a non-executive director, Mr Graham, part of your function is to ensure that the board is operating efficiently and transparently, holding the chair, the chief constable and others to account, and the point that I am making is that, on the fundamental issue of governance and the governance review, that has not happened. In that respect—and my comments are solely in that respect—the non-executive members of the board have not fulfilled their function with the robustness that is needed. They must be able to say to the chair, “Don’t do that again.”
I am not asking for the chair’s resignation, or for anyone’s resignation, because we all have to learn lessons. As you said yourself, Mr Graham, you are new to the role of non-executive director. We are paying non-executive directors to hold people to account. On this occasion it is clear, especially in light of the chief inspector’s comments, that that did not happen. Your job now is to ensure that there is no repeat of that, and that in future people are held to account. That is the point that I am making. I am not trying in any way to deride your service or anyone else’s service. Like you, I want to see an efficient Scottish Police Authority holding people to account, and that includes internal account. You have heard this morning about people being denied information, and you have heard loads of other stories as well. As everybody agrees, there is clearly still a lot more to do to get the Scottish Police Authority into the position that it needs to be in to gain the confidence of the Parliament and of the Scottish people.
George Graham: Thank you, Mr Neil, for those comments. I respect your position on the issue and I accept it. As you point out, and as I accept myself, I am still very much learning in my endeavours. There are a number of tangible examples of areas where we have engaged in effective scrutiny, so I would not like the committee to have the impression, just because of that one single issue, that that is how we behaved at all times. Finally, I want to say that a number of staff in the SPA, who have been through a fairly turbulent three or four years, work incredibly hard to support us as non-executive directors. They do an awful lot of good work and sometimes the stories that are published affect how they feel about their work. That is not the fault of the committee, because I respect the fact that it is your job to scrutinise what we do. I just want to put on the record my appreciation for how they support us, and I emphasise that we are still learning.
Alex Neil: I think that we would endorse that appreciation.
I fully understand that there have been some details and issues between the chair of the SPA and Moi Ali that you, as a non-executive director, could not get involved in but, given the damage to the perception of the SPA that was done by the way in which Moi Ali’s departure from the board was forced—not just handled but forced—I would have thought, without necessarily taking sides, that there was a legitimate case for the non-executive directors, with their remit, to raise at the board meeting the question of how that had been handled. Irrespective of who was right and who was wrong, there is no doubt that, over a period of months, that has done significant damage to the perception and the reputation of the Scottish Police Authority. I am trying to be positive. You need to be more robust in such situations, raise such things with the chair, and get them sorted before they become a public relations disaster for the Scottish Police Authority, which what we are talking about has been.
The full transcript of the hearing can be viewed here: Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee 11 May 2017
The previous session of the PAPLS investigation of the Scottish Police Authority can be read 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’