Different priorities of Scottish and UK govts increasingly apparent in criminal justice system


  By a Newsnet reporter

A new analysis has laid bare the difference in priorities between Westminster and Holyrood, with spending on criminal justice in Scotland increasing, despite a sharp fall in equivalent spending south of the border.

The new publication from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies show that while spending on criminal justice in England and Wales fell by 12% between 2009/10 and 2011/12, such spending in Scotland rose by 4% in the same period. Meanwhile police officer numbers south of the border fell by 7% while in Scotland the additional 1,000 police officers delivered by the SNP were maintained.

There was a similar story in prisons, with prison staff in England and Wales falling by 11% while in Scotland staff numbers increased by 3%.

Total public sector spending on all government services fell by 1.4 per cent in the same period, showing that the criminal justice system was bearing the brunt of the UK government’s austerity cuts.

The UK Justice Policy Review also reveals the growing role played by private sector providers in the criminal justice system.  The UK government coalition paid five major contractors over £440m for public order services between May 2011 and April 2012.

The biggest recipient was ATOS, who were paid £151m, mainly for IT support supplied to the Ministry of Justice, NOMS and the Courts and Tribunals Service.  ATOS also has a number of other important government contracts, including its controversial running of the assessments for disability benefits.

Serco provided prisoner escorting, as well as electronic monitoring, resettlement services and the running of HMP Doncaster, receiving £113m that year.  Geo Amey received £54m for electronic monitoring and prisoner escorting; A4E £5m for resettlement work and payments and support services; G4S were paid £118m for operating HMP Wolds, HMP Birmingham and for running prisoner custody and escort services.

One of the authors of the UK Justice Policy Review report, Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said:

“After several years of plenty for the criminal justice system under Labour, the coalition is intent on delivering several years of relative famine.”

Commenting, SNP MSP Sandra White who sits on the Justice Committee said:

“This new analysis makes clear the fundamental difference in approach between Westminster and the Scottish Government when it comes to justice.

“While Westminster is putting communities at risk by launching an unprecedented attack on police pay and conditions and officer numbers are tumbling, in Scotland we have made absolutely clear our determination to stand by our police officers.

“Having delivered on our pledge to recruit more than 1,000 additional police officers to protect our communities, crime in Scotland is at a 37 year low. That is why the SNP will continue to maintain police numbers and will not undermine police morale by introducing the disastrous Winsor reforms taking place south of the border.

“This really is a tale of two governments, with Westminster seemingly happy to jeopardise the safety of people across England and Wales in pursuit of the Tories’ austerity agenda.

“It is not a path Scotland will go down and our track record in this area is a clear example of the kind of positive decisions we can make when Scotland has full control of a policy. With the powers of an independent Scotland we can build upon this track record in other areas and ensure that every decision in Scotland reflects the priorities of people living here.”