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Business Plan 2021-2022

01 Apr 2021

Commissioner's Foreword

The Business Plan for 2021-22 outlines how we plan to deliver our key priorities in the final year of our 2019-22 Strategic Plan and provides a summary of our performance in the previous 12 months.

The past year has proved to be the most challenging the organisation has ever experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted hugely on all our lives.

Like many other organisations, the pandemic had an immediate impact on how we conducted our daily business. However, our ‘Business Continuity’ planning quickly took effect and within the first few weeks of the initial ‘lockdown’, our staff quickly adapted to new ways of working, primarily from home.

Our Corporate Team worked tremendously well to ensure all staff had the necessary equipment, while providing vital HR services to help colleagues adapt to the new way of working. Everyone has their own way of dealing with change and new pressures and we have been mindful to ensure welfare support is there for those who need it, with a particular focus on mental health.

The professionalism, commitment and flexibility of everyone in ensuring that we have continued, almost seamlessly, to deal with day-to-day business, often with the combined pressures of caring for others and home schooling, is highly commendable.

This is typified by an attendance rate of more than 98%. We continue to provide a vital service, that is central to improving policing in Scotland.

Looking forward, there is cautious optimism that we can begin to emerge from the pandemic and return to some kind of ‘normality’ by the second half of the year. As we begin this transition, the likelihood is that we will adapt to a new hybrid way of working, which is likely to see some staff splitting their time between home and the office.

A review of our policies will be undertaken to see what posts may fall into the category of supporting a more agile way of working, taking into account our investment in technology and work done to amend our business practises. Our COVID Working Group has already carried out a substantial amount of work in preparing for our eventual return to the office and this work remains ongoing.

Our core strategic priorities for the year ahead, supported by a number of key actions, remain unchanged:

  • 80% of all investigation reports are submitted to the referring body within 3 months of the start of the investigation; 90% of all referrals are assessed and an investigation decision taken within 5 working days of receipt of relevant information;

  • 80% of Complaint Handling Review cases finalised within four months of receipt;

  • To demonstrate effective and efficient governance.

  • These priorities underpin our aim to increase public confidence in policing through independent scrutiny of their actions and how they handle complaints made by members of the public.To achieve these, many of the significant challenges identified in last year’s Business Plan remain.These include:

  • The publication of Dame Elish Angiolini’s final report in November 2020 on police
    complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues in relation to policing
    in Scotland. The report made a series of wide-ranging recommendations, which include the provision of a suite of new powers and responsibilities for the PIRC. These
    are designed to strengthen independent investigation and oversight of complaints
    against the police. Significantly, Dame Elish identified gaps in the system that she believes the PIRC is well placed to fill, pointing to the independence, expertise and experience of our staff as evidence that the organisation is ready and able to take on new responsibilities.

Many of the recommendations are dependent on legislation and some will require more
resources. We have produced an action plan to progress the various recommendations and are working collaboratively with key partners to consider how to take forward those
recommendations that require joint working. Overall, we anticipate a phased approach to implementing some of the more radical and structural changes proposed.

  • The public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death in custody of Sheku
    Bayoh, of which we are a core participant, has commenced.To facilitate the requirements of the Inquiry we established a dedicated team. A substantial amount of work has gone into gathering material and information and to date we are compliant with all requests made from the Inquiry team.

  • The ongoing upward trend in the number of referrals from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and Police Scotland is further evidence of the confidence in the role and work of the PIRC.

  • The planned Cop 26 UN environment summit in Glasgow in November.

  • The backdrop to these numerous and varied challenges is an increase in our general workload and the impact of COVID-19.

As mentioned above, this has resulted in new restrictions and safety considerations which, in turn, has meant the introduction of revised working practices to ensure we continue to deliver our core responsibilities.

In 2019-20, we dealt with 76 investigations which increased to 78 in 2020-21. Notably, this included a substantial rise in death investigations, which are more resource intensive and often more protracted. Despite this, and taking into account the impact of COVID-19 and staffing and resource issues, we still managed to complete 78% of our cases within three months. This has been achieved by further streamlining the way in which we carry out our investigations. A good example of this was our timeous, professional and thorough investigation of  a fatal police shooting of a 28-year-old man in Glasgow in June 2020, the first time we have dealt with such an incident.

For our Review Team, while there was a slight drop in the number of cases completed, many of them took longer to conclude because of the complexity and increase in the average number of heads of complaint in each case. Overall, 270 requests for Complaint Handling Reviews (CHRs) were received in 2020-21, down by 9 compared with the previous year.
Overall, we completed 38.2% within four months of receipt. While this is significantly below  our target to complete 80% of CHR cases within four months of receipt, given the  backlog of cases that were over 4 months old at the beginning of the year, the target was always aspirational.

There were, however, other extenuating factors that impacted on the work of the review team during this year. When we had to close our offices due to the pandemic, there were a number of the Review team who did not have immediate access to a lap-top and were limited to working on hard copy files that were in their possession at that time. It also took some time to implement a system whereby files could be transferred by Police Scotland electronically. Due to the impact of COVID-19, our recruitment of more Review staff, to give us a greater capacity, took longer than expected. However, from March 2021 these staff are now fully on board.

It is of note that although we have some way to go to achieve the KPI, the average timescales for completing a CHR has reduced by 27% from 8.7 months to 6.3 months, indicating a positive direction of travel.

Our focus in the past year has been to place more emphasis on learning for the police to drive improvements, in addition to highlighting procedural and administrative issues associated with complaint handling.This collaborative approach with Police Scotland has contributed towards an overall improvement in police complaint handling, resulting in 71% (an increase of 9%) of CHRs where the complaint was reasonably handled.

We reported in last year’s Business Plan a welcome increase in our funding, to better
equip the organisation in meeting its statutory functions.To provide further reassurance and confidence in the handling of complaints by the police and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), we plan to carry out more regular audits this year, including thematic reviews, of specific areas such as the classification of complaints, front line resolution and how learning is being captured. Notably, this was one of the priorities identified by Dame Elish in her review.

Throughout the year, we regularly review the demands placed on our organisation with
Scottish Government Sponsor Team officials. The authorised grant in aid for the PIRC for 2021-22 is £5,474k. This represents an increase of £778k from our 2020-21 budget allocation.

A large part of this budget increase is to support implementation of some of the Dame Elish recommendations, including the recruitment of additional staff.

While we have incurred additional expenditure to support home working, significant savings have been made, particularly in reducing the amount of travel and office costs. We will continue to ensure that we provide best value with our resources and support the public sector, as we prepare to emerge from the current health crisis.

Robust governance processes ensure that we continue to maintain progress in achieving our priorities. Despite the substantial change in working patterns, performance and risks continue to be reviewed monthly by the Heads of Department Group (HoDG) and quarterly by the PIRC’s Audit and Accountability Committee.

Our corporate governance has been further strengthened with a number of
appointments made to the Audit and Accountability Committee.Through an open and transparent recruitment process, new members and the Chair are now in place. I’m pleased to welcome the wide range of experience and expertise that these new members will bring to the organisation, in ensuring we carry out our functions and manage our finances appropriately. In addition, the organisation is held accountable for financial matters by the Auditor General for Scotland.

Michelle Macleod

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