Criminal justice budget ‘unsustainable’, ministers warned

Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee has published a report ahead of the 2024/25 budget.

Criminal justice budget ‘unsustainable’, ministers warned PA Media

The criminal justice system in Scotland is “unsustainable” and cannot withstand “marginal” budget increases to maintain vital services, a Holyrood committee has warned.

The Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee has produced a report to conclude its pre-budget scrutiny for 2024/25, with evidence taken from the police and fire service.

Ministers have been told a “business as usual” approach, which sees the justice budget incrementally increased in “small sums”, should not continue.

The committee report notes: “The funding situation facing the criminal justice sector cannot be allowed to continue.

“We cannot continue to provide ever increasing small sums of finance seemingly to effectively stand still in a ‘business as usual’ fashion.”

A major concern highlighted by committee MSPs is the impact the finances have had on delays to “critical” projects, such as the replacement of HMP Barlinnie, investment in decontamination facilities in fire stations, and the roll out of body-worn video cameras to police, while it also highlights issues on staffing numbers and service delivery.

The committee also expressed alarm at repeatedly heard evidence about the inefficiencies of police officers having to spend a disproportionate amount of time dealing with mental health concerns, or spending a significant period of time waiting to give evidence in court.

It called for the Scottish Government to move towards a “spend-to-save model”, which would ensure the justice sector is able to deliver services and meet the demands placed on it.

Committee convener Audrey Nicoll said: “Year on year we are seeing the increasing pressure on services in the justice sector and the difficult decisions organisations are having to make in order to continue to deliver.

“We recognise the twin pressures of high inflation and pay awards, but it feels like we have reached a critical point and that increasingly there are fewer and fewer savings which can be made without a detrimental impact on services.

“Throughout our scrutiny it has become clear that the current model is unsustainable and that marginal increases in budgets each year are no longer sufficient.

“We’re calling for a different approach and the implementation of a spend-to-save model which would bring increased investment into the criminal justice system and will ultimately save money.

“We need urgent reform of how this sector is funded to ensure its long-term viability, and which means services are properly funded and the infrastructure behind them modernised to meet the demands of our society.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Almost £3.4 billion is being invested across the justice system in 2023-24 to fund vital frontline services, provide continued support for victims and witnesses, and to tackle the causes of offending.

“This represents an increase of £165 million or a 5.8% increase on the previous year’s justice resource budget.

“The Deputy First Minister said this week that the UK Government’s Autumn Statement delivered the ‘worst case scenario’ for Scotland’s finances.

“Ministers are assessing the full implications of that statement as they develop a Budget that meets the needs of the people of Scotland, in line with our missions of equality, community and opportunity.”

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