UK first for new unit to target corruption in Scotland

A new unit which aims to prevent corruption in the public sector has been established by Police Scotland.

The national Counter Corruption Unit seeks to strengthen and improve safeguards against the threat posed by anyone intent on gaining illegal advantage by targeting organisations which are funded by public money. 

The police unit will work across the entire public sector to make it more difficult for individuals to carry out such activities which divert legitimate resources away from the community in a number of different ways.

The unit will have a dual remit: one team will focus internally within Police Scotland while a second team will be focused on the wider public sector arena.

Sue Bruce, Chief Executive, City of Edinburgh Council, who has supported the development of the joint working between public bodies and the police, said: “We welcome this new preventative approach from Police Scotland which will seek to support public sector organisations in taking the right measures to counter the threat of corruption. 

“While cases of corruption are rare, it is right that we should work together to ensure the highest possible standards of best practice for Scotland's public sector organisations and it is helpful to know that specialist support is available should we need it."

Chief Constable Sir Stephen House said: “This will be a dedicated resource, the first of its kind in UK policing, and breaks new ground in seeking to work in partnership with all public sector bodies to prevent and strengthen organisational resilience to corruption. At the same time, it will offer a specialist investigation capability which will enhance public confidence in the integrity of public services and servants, protect public finances and keep people safe. 

“The actions of the few who engage in corrupt activity have a disproportionate impact on public confidence and the reputation of any public organisation. At a time of increasing budget constraints on the public purse, it’s important we do all we can to protect the public sector and our communities.

“The move to a single police service in Scotland has presented us with an ideal opportunity to introduce consistency and co-ordination on a national scale but also the chance to work with our partners in the public sector to strengthen the barriers against corruption.” 

Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill MSP, said: “Organised crime is found in all areas of society, including the public sector, and it is essential that our prosecutors have the tools and resources to tackle these issues swiftly and effectively. The Police Counter Corruption Unit will provide a vital service to help organisations across Scotland protect their staff, assets, and funds.

"It is crucial that the ethos of prevention is very much at the core of the unit to ensure the early detection of criminality and minimise the harm it can inflict. Thankfully significant incidents of counter corruption in public office are rare, however every headline is one too many.”

The new unit will be led by Detective Chief Superintendent Russell Dunn. Detective Superintendent Sean Scott will lead the team which will focus on protecting the public sector.

Det Supt Scott’s team will focus on working with organisations to prevent and mitigate the risk of corruption as well as investigate any individuals who are involved in such activity.

Corruption can take many forms. It can be underpinned by serious organised crime or it can be the actions of an individual for personal gain. It can be described as “the ability of an individual or group to pervert a process of the function of an organisation to achieve a criminal goal”, or “the abuse of public power for private benefit”.

Det Chief Supt Dunn said: “Vulnerabilities can be organisational, such as processes or policies, as well as in relation to staff on an individual and personal level where various issues which can make them susceptible to corruption.

“Our intention is to strengthen public sector resilience against corrupt practices and criminal infiltration. We will advise on the design of robust organisational strategies, structures and policies to mitigate corruption risks.

That will involve developing appropriate protocols for joint working and information sharing to support prevention and investigation. We would like to send a clear message to anyone who knows about corruption to report it either through their own processes or via the Police.

“The threat to the wider public sector is primarily driven by the functions of an organisation where procurement, planning, licensing, service contracts and other financial – and non-financial – benefits offer potentially fertile opportunities for criminal coercion and threats. Police Scotland is committed to keeping people safe. That means in the widest sense we are doing all we can to deny criminals and anyone engaged in corrupt practice those openings which potentially allow them to engage in this activity which undermines both the safety of our communities and our national economy.”

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