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22 December 2016, 13:14
Police Scotland and its oversight body are facing a projected funding gap of almost £190 million by 2020/21, the Auditor General has said.
The figure was revealed in Audit Scotland's annual audit of the force and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) accounts for 2015/16.
Audit Scotland found Police Scotland and the SPA ''continue to suffer from weak financial leadership and considerable budget pressures'' for the third year running.
Auditor General for Scotland Caroline Gardner said it is ''unacceptable'' that she has highlighted the issues every year since the organisations were created when Scotland's eight police forces merged in 2013, and called for ''substantial improvement''.
The report said inaccurate records and poor financial management mean ''significant corrections'' are needed on the accounts.
The Scottish Police Authority oversaw £1.1 billion of spending in 2015/16 and has allocated Police Scotland £972.9 million for 2016/17, but the report criticised the ''very limited publicly-available detail'' on what the money is to be used for, adding: ''This impedes effective scrutiny and transparency to the public.''
The projected funding gap of £188.2 million by 2020/21 includes the Scottish Government's commitment for a real terms rise in the policing budget for the duration of the current Scottish Parliament, assumes that the Government continues to pay VAT for both the SPA and Police Scotland, and includes the ''continuing commitment'' to maintain police officer numbers at 17, 234.
The projected funding gap for 2016/17 is £17.5 million and the budget gap predicted for 2018/19 has fallen from £84.6 million in last year's Audit Scotland report to £45.8 million.
Ms Gardner said: ''The Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland are among the largest and most important public bodies in the country. It's therefore unacceptable that I've had to report to the Parliament on weak financial leadership and management in all three years of their existence.
''Substantial improvement is required now to deliver the strong financial leadership, long-term planning and robust scrutiny that will be needed if policing in Scotland is to withstand the major challenges ahead.''
Ms Gardner said adequate accounting records were not kept in relation to property, plant and equipment as insufficient consideration was given to the identification of surplus assets, while ''numerous errors'' were found in the valuation of assets held for sale.
She noted that overall internal controls in key financial systems had improved from last year and more information had been provided on the use of Scottish Government reform funding, as requested, including that a proportion is used for the revenue budget.
She added steps taken by SPA and Police Scotland to improve financial leadership and management and governance have not yet had a chance to have an impact.
Police Scotland and the SPA's financial management was also criticised in the HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland's annual report published on Thursday.
Derek Penman said the organisations' general overall performance ''remains strong'' but ''urgent work is still needed to strengthen their finance function and improve their scrutiny governance''.
He said ''major financial challenges persist for sustainability'' and highlighted the use of a £19.4 million underspend in the police capital budget for 2015/16 to reduce a £20.5 million overspend in the revenue budget to £1.2 million.
He said: ''However, using capital to offset deficiencies in the revenue budget is neither desirable nor sustainable and significantly curtails the essential strategic investment in estates, vehicles and ICT enabled change that underpin transformation.''
He also questioned the SPA's decision to hold committee meetings in private.