The chief of Scotlandâ€™s new national police force has described as â€œgobsmackingâ€ a loophole that may mean he is not in charge of office staff.
Stephen House is in a turf war over who controls the new Scottish police force’s civilian staff
Stephen House told MSPs that â€œgrey areasâ€ in the legislation that created the new force means it is not clear who has day-to-day control over administrative areas like personnel and finance.
He admitted he was engaged in a power struggle with Vic Emery, the chairman of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), over who should fill the role.
Both men have taken legal advice after MSPs failed to notice the flaw when the legislation was passing through the Scottish Parliament earlier this year.
The new Police Service of Scotland will begin operating on 1 April, 2013, when the eight existing regional forces are merged. The SPA was set up to support and scrutinise the force and Mr Houseâ€™s performance.
Giving evidence to Holyroodâ€™s justice committee, Mr House confirmed he consulted Strathclyde Policeâ€™s lead lawyer after being alerted to â€œconcernsâ€ about his new postâ€™s remit.
â€œHe didn’t believe that the Act allowed the authority to delegate to me control over support staff, which is clearly a bit of a gobsmacking major problem with legislation as far as I was concerned,â€ he told MSPs.
â€œI absolutely believe that it is essential that I have day-to-day control of the HR (human resources) and finance structures of the police service to provide a good service for the people of Scotland.â€
He said the legislation makes clear that he has control over the new â€œpolice serviceâ€, a term he said that was wider than mere â€œpolice constablesâ€ and included support staff
The former Strathclyde chief constable said warned that grey areas in the set-up means it may not always be clear who is responsible when mistakes are made.
But Mr Emery told the committee he has â€œno doubtâ€ that Mr House is in charge of operational policing but he wants a separate civilian structure of which he is head.
â€œI’m running the SPA, which provides services to the police to enable them to do the job. We are here to make sure that the people of Scotland get the very best service they can at an affordable price.â€ he told MSPs.
Although he admitted the row had yet to be resolved, Mr House predicted a solution would be found at the next SPA meeting on December 5.
Speaking afterwards, Graeme Pearson, a Labour committee member, said: â€œThe SNP has created a single police force and an oversight authority which donâ€™t even know their respective roles.
â€œThis is a shambles of the highest order and to watch the total confusion today in front of MSPs was bizarre, particularly given there are only four months left to build the new service.â€
The Association of Scottish Police Superintendents argued that control of both finances and human resources should come under the control of the chief constable.
Chief Superintendent David O’Connor said: â€œThe argument that the authority can deliver services such as human resources and finance is dangerous and unsustainable.â€
A Scottish Government spokesman said: â€œAll police staff will be under the direction and control of the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland.
â€œThis is consistent with current arrangements, with police staff employed by boards or authorities and under the direction of the chief constable.â€
Stephen House ‘gobsmacked’ over Scottish police force loophole