Police body compared to “dodgy tax haven” after scathing audit report

The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) has been compared to a “dodgy offshore tax haven” after allowing a senior officer’s personal tax bill to be paid off with public funds.

In a scathing new report, the Auditor General highlighted a raft of questionable decisions taken by former SPA chief executive John Foley, who stood down from the police body last month.

Caroline Gardner singled out the decision to appoint three temporary senior staff at a cost of more than £344,000 as one that “did not demonstrate value for money in the use of public funds”.

She found that the process for appointing an interim chief financial officer at the SPA “was inconsistent with procurement procedures”.

And the auditor’s report also criticised the decision by Mr Foley to authorise two relocation expenses payments totalling £67,000 for a deputy chief constable as well as paying the same officer’s £53,000 personal tax liability for 2016/17.

“Relocation payments of this magnitude do not represent a good use of public money”, the report said, adding that they were not properly disclosed in the SPA’s annual report and accounts.

“Our audit identified a number of instances of poor governance and poor use of public money. This is unacceptable,” she said.

Kenneth Hogg was seconded from the Scottish Government to take on the role as SPA chief executive following Mr Foley’s departure.

Former SPA chair Andrew Flanagan also stepped down from his role after concerns were raised about governance and transparency, and has been replaced by former Labour health minister Susan Deacon.

Ms Deacon said: “Audit Scotland’s report offers a very timely independent assessment of the financial management of Police Scotland and the SPA.

“I am determined that going forward we will build on the progress acknowledged in this report and address the concerns highlighted.”

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: “This report could lead some to think the SPA has been behaving like some kind of dodgy offshore tax haven.

“People will be astonished that senior police officers are having their tax liabilities settled by the tax payer. And they’ll be incredulous that none of this was properly declared.”

Labour’s Jackie Baillie, acting convener of Holyrood’s public audit committee, said: “It’s with absolute dismay that we’re seeing yet another critical report on the Scottish Police Authority.

“The only ray of hope is that the SPA now has a new chair and chief executive at the helm. They must improve its tattered reputation and restore public confidence in how policing is run in Scotland.”