The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) has made progress but concerns remain about its ability to balance its budget and meet longer term strategic objectives.
The audit of the SPA's 2017/18 accounts confirmed that there have been improvements in areas such as governance arrangements, with all board and committee papers now made publicly available.
Seven new members have also been appointed to the board to improve leadership capacity and effectiveness. And better budget monitoring has been put in place.
But in her fifth annual report on the finances and performance of the SPA, the Auditor General, Caroline Gardner, reports that there are still considerable challenges ahead for policing as it moves towards implementing its Policing 2026 vision.
There has been slow progress in developing workforce and estate strategies. This will restrict the SPA's ability to achieve long-term financial sustainability and deliver the strategic objectives set out in its Policing 2026 vision.
The Auditor General also highlights the critical role of a recently approved Data, Digital and ICT Strategy. However, a funding package to meet the estimated budget of £298 million required to deliver the strategy over the next five years has not yet been agreed.
The report also notes that there was increased spending on consultancy and external support in 2017/18 due to a lack of capacity in the SPA and Police Scotland to deliver strategic projects. A total of £4.3 million was spent in 2017/18 on consultancy fees, more than double the £1.9 million spent the previous year. Expenditure on agency staff was £4 million, a significant increase from the £1.5 million spent in 2016/17.
Caroline Gardner said:
"Policing in Scotland continues to go through considerable change. Progress has been made in key areas but there remains a substantial amount of work to do if the SPA is to achieve long-term financial sustainability and meet the challenges of modern policing.
"The scale, cost and complexity of the plans needed to deliver that transformational change should not be underestimated. It's vital that the SPA and Police Scotland develop comprehensive strategies for its future workforce, estates and ICT and clarify where the funding is coming from to make them a reality."