HALF of the Scottish Police Authority’s senior management team is on secondment from the SNP Government, triggering a fresh row over political control of the beleaguered watchdog.

The Sunday Herald can reveal that three of the six most senior staff members at the police body, which was created as a buffer between ministers and the single force, are on “loan” from the Government.

Tory MSP Liam Kerr said: “These revelations will only make people even more suspicious about SNP interference in the police force. A shake-up is required, and the SNP has to be left in no doubt that independent bodies must remain so.”

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has been under fire since it emerged his intervention led to the SPA overturning its own decision on allowing Police Scotland chief cconstable Phil Gormley to return to work. Gormley is on special leave following allegations of misconduct.

The SPA was set up as the oversight body for the single force, but Matheson’s actions led to claims the Government had neutered the watchdog. The Justice Secretary was called on to resign over the interference row and demands have been made for an overhaul of the relationship between the SPA and the Government.

The SPA’s senior management team includes five directors and a chief officer. Kenneth Hogg, the interim chief officer, is a career civil servant who took up his SPA post in November on a 12-month secondment from the Government. He was the Government’s director for safer communities between 2009 and 2012, overseeing reform of the police and fire service.

Stephen Jones, the SPA’s director of planning and corporate support, joined in June 2017 on a year’s secondment. He was previously head of police powers at the Government, leading policy development and advising ministers on areas such as stop and search, armed policing, detention and arrest.

Hilary Pearce, who supports the chief officer on “improvement assurance”, started at the SPA last month on loan from the Government for four months.

Communications director John McCroskie previously spent more than 12 years in a number of roles within the Government, including on the justice portfolio. Below director level, SPA head of business services Catherine MacIntyre is also a secondee.

The revelations have reignited the debate on whether the Government, which appoints all SPA board members and the chair, has too much control of the body.

An SPA spokesman said: “The new chair of the SPA, Susan Deacon, has made clear there is need for significant improvement in the governance and decision-making of the SPA. Secondments from central government and public-sector justice partners are contributing to that work, and to the pace at which improvements are delivered.

A Government spokesman said: “Secondments to SPA are made at their request. Scottish Government secondees provide interim support as the organisation develops plans for longer-term restructuring of executive roles.”