Calls for MSPs to probe ‘secretive’ Scottish Police Federation CALLS are being made for an influential Scottish Parliament committee to probe the highly secretive Scottish Police Federation (SPF) - which has received substantial public cash grants from the Scottish Government cumulatively totalling millions of pounds over a period of years.
The call for an audit & scrutiny of the Scottish Police Federation - which represents rank & file Police Officers – comes as files obtained via Freedom of Information legislation – reveals the General Secretary of the SPF asked the Scottish Government in May 2017 to withdraw £374,000 of public cash funding to the cash rich Police Union.
Coincidentally, the request by Police Federation boss PC Calum Steele to the Scottish Government to drop the cash payments – came seven days after the Scottish Information Commissioner stated on their twitter social media account that the Scottish Police Federation would be added to their recommendations to the Scottish Government - for compliance with Freedom of Information legislation.
However, nine months on from the Calum Steele’s request to cancel the public funding arrangement, the Scottish Government has now admitted it is still considering public cash grant funding for the Scottish Police Federation – and has not actually agreed to cut the public cash – as requested by Steele..
While the Scottish Government have so far refused to release much of the discussions on the SPF’s public cash funding arrangements, a list of payments disclosed in papers reveal the sequence of grant funding payments for the year 2016-2017 - where a total of £368,778 public cash was paid in four payments of £92,197 during April, July, October 2016, and a further payment in January 2017.
Peter Jamieson of the Scottish Government's Police Powers and Workforce group confirmed funding is still being considered, stating: “To note, that we are still considering the Scottish Police Federation grant funding for 2017/18.”
The Scottish Government have yet to respond to a request for further details on why they are still considering public cash for the Scottish Police Federation,
However, sources have indicated civil servants and Special Advisers (SPADS) have discussed the matter of ending the grant funding, where some expressed the view that the public cash grant funding gives the Scottish Government a ‘carrot and stick’ hold over the SPF – which regularly supports Government policy in any area.
More recently, the Scottish Police Federation has been accused of having a vested interest in the leadership crisis at Police Scotland – which saw extensive efforts to oust the now former Chief Constable Phil Gormley, and replace him with DCC Iain Livingstone.
However, while the Scottish Government delay a decision on how to slip more public cash to the Scottish Police Federation, a letter from the SPF’s General Secretary Calum Steele to Tansy Main, the Head of Police Workforce Team – claims the Scottish Police Federation is no longer reliant on the public cash.
The letter from PC Calum Steele to the Scottish Government reads as follows:
As you are aware the history of the Scottish Police Federation Grant was simply to ensure that no single police force was left carrying the costs of the elected officials of the Scottish Police Federation (SPF). The Scottish Government (and its predecessor bodies) paid a grant to the SPF, which was in turn utilised to reimburse the relevant force for the costs of the elected officials. This was entirely appropriate.
Since the creation of the Police Service of Scotland the issue of which force pays the costs of the elected officials of the SPF is no longer relevant. The practical effect is therefore that the SPF receives the grant in quarterly instalments only to immediately pass them to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) to meet the costs of the official's salaries. This however creates an administrative burden for both the SPF and SPA that is completely unnecessary. It demands amongst other things that the account is audited, that accounting fees are paid and that a purely administrative set of accounts is created and published.
The grant also covered the costs of ancillary matters including (but not limited to) accoutrements, rates and rent for the SPF headquarters, the costs of the then annual conference, and the costs of the statutory meetings of the Joint Central Committee. You will be aware that the grant has reduced in value in recent years and as the accounts show, whilst continuing to cover the cost of officials, it no longer comes close to covering the costs of the items it was originally intended to.
Whilst the grant accounts shows a paper loss, the SPF considers that beyond costs of officials, we are no longer reliant on the additional grant monies to pay for these elements.
The SPF considers therefore that continued payment of a grant to the SPF makes little sense and formally request the termination of SPF grant facilities, with the monies being paid directly to the SPA, as part of the global policing settlement (or otherwise as Government sees fit).
Self-evidently the SPF would expect that in doing so this would result in the termination of the expectation that the SPF continues to reimburse the SPA for the cost associated with officials, without detriment to the provisions of the Police Federation (Scotland) Regulations, insofar as they relate to the payment of pay and pension for officials of the SPF in particular.
The SPF would also ask that the surplus elements be considered to cover any notional future costs the SPF might be expected to incur as a consequence of the Trade Union Bill.
Any scrutiny of the Scottish Police Federation’s use of public funds, and their position as a body created by legislation, is liable to be carried out by the highly effective Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee (PAPLS) – which took on the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) in spectacular style, providing ground breaking scrutiny of a dysfunction, secretive authority dubbed a “secret society” by MSP Alex Neil (SNP).
Among the additional FOI documents disclosed by the Scottish Government include some, but not all minutes of meetings & discussions around the grant funding for the Scottish Police Federation, and as has been consistent with recent Scottish Government releases, documents are subject to significant redactions.
However, while the letter from the SPF General Secretary to the Scottish Government reveals scant detail of SPF finances, former and currently serving Police Officers have posted their concerns on social media with regards to figures of up to ten million pounds held by the Scottish Police Federation in bank accounts & assets.
Social media postings by current and former Police Officers also refer to trips undertaken by SPF representatives including Callum Steele and suspended Sheriff Peter Watson - to various gatherings funded by the Scottish Police Federation.
Meanwhile, as current & former Police Officers & journalists asking questions of the SPF are either blocked online, or subject to social media attacks by supporters of the Scottish Police Federation and politically friendly elements – some of whom give after dinner speeches or lobby for public cash for their ventures, the Scottish Information Commissioner appears to have reneged on their enthusiasm for recommending FOI compliance for the SPF.
An earlier statement from the Scottish Information Commissioner claimed the SIC would add the SPF to their list of organisations which should be covered by Freedom of Information legislation.
The statement came in response to a request made on behalf of serving & former Police Officers - who queried why the Scottish Police Federation remained except from Freedom of Information legislation in Scotland, while their English counterpart was brought within FOI laws in England & Wales some years ago.
A tweet dated 18 May 2017 from
@FOIScotland in response stated “Thanks - we'll add it to our list of bodies to propose to Ministers. Individuals can also make their own representations to the Scot Gov”
The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) is funded in part by police officers who pay subscriptions from their wages.
Differing from it’s Scottish counterpart – the Scottish Police Federation - which has cumulatively received millions of pounds in public cash over the years, the PFEW is not a public body and not funded by the public and is the only staff association to be subject to Freedom of Information (FoI) - which came into effect for the PFEW in April 2017 by way of the following legislation:
Freedom of Information Act etc: Police Federation for England and Wales: The Police Federation for England and Wales is to be treated for the purposes of— (a)10the Freedom of Information Act 2000,(b)the Data Protection Act 1998, and (c)section 18 of the Inquiries Act 2005, as if it were a body listed in Part 5 of Schedule 1 to the 2000 Act (public authorities).
However, nine months later in Scotland, after the Scottish Information Commissioner had said it would act on the matter, no action has been taken by the Scottish Information Commissioner to include the Scottish Police Federation in their recommendations of FOI compliance to Ministers.
Queried over the lack of action on the subject, a response from the SIC claimed the Scottish Information Commissioner could not divert financial resources to make any necessary representation to the Scottish Government.
A journalist who viewed the SIC’s claim of being under resourced - branded their response as “a delaying tactic”.
Scottish Information Commissioner’s role in FOI transparency.
A query to the Scottish Information Commissioner of 30 May 2017 on the subject of recommending Freedom of Information compliance be applied to the Scottish Police Federation generated the following response from the SIC:
The power to designate bodies as Scottish public authorities under sections 4 or 5 of FOISA lies with Ministers. Section 43(4) of FOISA provides that the Commissioner can, from time to time, make proposals to the Ministers “for the exercise by them of their functions” under those provisions. Of course anyone can make such proposals to Ministers and we know that people do so.
It’s important that proposals to Ministers are framed in terms of considerations for designations of each body. The Commissioner’s Special Report in 2015 FOI 10 years on: Are the right organisations covered? (copy attached) suggests the sorts of considerations Ministers might apply to deciding whether or not to designate bodies under section 5 (the more complex of the two designation provisions).
We’ve made a number of proposals to Ministers over the years about bodies they might consider for designation. Most of those proposals have concerned section 5 – see consultation responses at http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/SICReports/OtherReports/otherReports.aspx
We’ve made few proposals to Ministers for consideration of designation of bodies under section 4. This is because there is rarely a need to do so. Scottish Government Bill Teams routinely ensure that primary legislation founding new bodies includes a modification of Schedule 1 of FOISA to ensure they are included as bodies under jurisdiction.
The most recent example I can recall of a section 4 proposal from the Commissioner is one in 2010 for consideration of the Court Rules Councils. I’ve attached a copy of the submission which sets out the sorts of considerations that Ministers might consider. These bodies were subsequently designated by Ministers.
The reference in our tweet is to a working list we maintain of bodies that the Commissioner might propose to Ministers. We revisit that list annually, at the latest, in the final quarter of each operational year (January – March). We research the possible considerations that might apply to designation of those bodies. If we conclude there is a persuasive case for a proposal, the Commissioner will make a proposal to that effect to the Ministers. Currently our list includes the following bodies:
Adult Protection Committee, Leisure trusts, etc, which were established other than by one or more local authorities, Learning Network West, Police Federation of Scotland
In terms of your request for comment on “non compliance of SPF in Scotland”, I hope you will appreciate that there is nothing we can offer until we have researched any designation considerations for that body. We’re grateful to you for bringing to our attention what appears to be an anomaly arising from the designation of a similar English and Welsh body under UK FOI law, but we have not yet looked into the background. Our research in this case will include looking at the reasons for the UK FOI designation and comparing issues such as legal status, function and control.
A further enquiry of September 2017 to the Scottish Information Commissioner on the subject of the Police Federation’s FOI compliance was then treated as an FOI request by the SIC, who responded, claiming they could not divert resources away from other work.
Shockingly, the Scottish Information Commissioner requested journalists make a submission to the Scottish Government instead of a fully researched submission by the Information Commissioner with all the weight such a report would carry in government & parliamentary circles.
The Information Commissioner’s response reads as follows, and accompanying documents released with the response can be found here:
Thank you for your enquiry on 29 September 2017 in which you asked for an update to the SIC’s position with regard to research or a recommendation for the inclusion of the Scottish Police Federation in FOISA. I have treated your enquiry as a request for information that we hold, because you are seeking information about the progress we have made since your media enquiry of 30 May 2017 about the FOI status of the Scottish Police Federation (our reference 201700982).
I also attach copies of my correspondence with Andrew Gunn of the FOI Unit in the Scottish Government (described in the attached schedule). I have redacted both Andrew’s, and Sinead Campbell’s email addresses as these may be personal information to which section 38(1)(b) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 applies. This should not affect the readability of the information and it is not information you asked to see.
I expect you will also want to know when we expect to carry out our research. When I wrote to you in May this year, I explained that our usual timetable for looking at potential recommendations for designation is the final quarter of the operational year (January to March 2018). This work is set out in our operational plan http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/AboutSIC/StrategicPlan.aspx. The relevant reference can be found on p10, line item 4.
Though I appreciate you are keen for us to research the status of the Police Federation of Scotland, regrettably there has been no opportunity to divert resources to the work ahead of our schedule. You do not, of course, have to wait for us to reach our conclusions; anyone can make a designation proposal to Ministers. Making your own proposal would ensure your own arguments for designation of the Police Federation of Scotland were taken into consideration.
To-date, the Scottish Information Commissioner has not made any submission to the Scottish Government on recommending the Scottish Police Federation be brought within Freedom of Information legislation – as is the case with the Police Federation of England & Wales.
And while this exemption continues, serving and former Police Officers who are still members of the SPF are effectively blacklisted or blocked on social media when they try to obtain answers to the lack of support they received from the SPF when help was needed.
Currently it is known the Scottish Police Federation are represented by law firms such as Levy and Mcrae, and Peter Black Watson of PBW Law.
During 2015, Levy and Mcrae, and their former partner Peter Black Watson were named in a multi million pound civil claim in the Court of Session.
Peter Watson – who is a member of Scotland’s judiciary, was suspended “to protect public confidence in the judiciary” by the then Lord President Lord Brian Gill.
How Scottish Police Federation spend their members money:
The Scottish Police Federation recently faced criticism for an office revamp that included the restoration of marble fireplaces and new French and Italian furnishings.
The headquarters upgrade was completed in 2015 and is said to have cost £1m, although that figure is disputed by the federation.
Concerns have been raised because the SPF receives taxpayers’ money in the form of a Scottish government grant worth £374,400.
The federation claimed “not a single penny” of taxpayer money was spent on the project at the HQ, which is in a listed building in Glasgow.
The head of Scotland’s police union was also embroiled in a spending row after splashing out £5,000 to attend a charity dinner headlined by former US president Barack Obama.
The Scottish Police Federation paid the money to secure a table at the prestigious event hosted by Sir Tom Hunter in Edinburgh last month.
The disclosure has caused upset amid claims the dinner was a “jolly” for top brass based at the union’s Glasgow headquarters in Woodside Place.
Police Federation spending in England resulted in fraud investigation:
An alleged £1m fraud at the Police Federation in England has been referred to prosecutors.
Lawyers at the Crown Prosecution Service are currently considering if criminal charges should be brought against Will Riches, the former vice-chair of the federation and a serving Metropolitan police officer.
The investigation began in March 2016 and it is alleged £1m in Police Federation funds was transferred to an organisation called the Peelers Charitable Foundation.
The Police Federation has been riven by internal divisions and was under government pressure to reform, after a series of controversies about how it spends and manages the money it raises.
It represents 123,000 rank and file police officers in England and Wales, and in 2014 Riches ran to be its chair. He got the same number of votes as his rival, but lost the job on a coin toss to Steven White, the current chair.
The Police Federation in England & Wales has previously faced allegations of bullying and secret multimillion-pound bank accounts.