£1m boost to help Fife’s justice system cope with extra pandemic workload
Social services within Fife's justice system have been given a £1m boost to cope with the additional demands brought on by Covid-19.
Councillors have welcomed the support package, which has been used to fund extra social workers and unpaid work supervisors to reduce the risk of re-offending by identifying root causes and aggrivating factors in offences.
The £1.033m lump sum from the Scottish Government is split roughly 80:20 between justice social work services and non-profits working in areas outside of social work's purview.
Fife Council has used £700k of its share to temporarily employ seven extra social workers, five assistants, three unpaid work supervisors and three support staff.
Steve Hopton, criminal justice services manager, said case loads for social workers have increased by around a third during the coronavirus pandemic.
He further anticipates that the justice system will feel the effects of Covid-19 for the next five years - and hopes the government will provide more financial aid in future.
"We have a 30-40% backlog of cases coming through the courts, which will have a significant impact," Mr Hopton said.
"Unpaid work has been really affected, in that we've not been able to run it.
"The government is suggesting the backlog will rise this year and for next year, then start to calm down - but that is expected to last five years."
In the 2019/20 period that preceded coronavirus, criminal justice social workers prepared more than five reports a day on average, and 809 offenders were given unpaid work.
Scottish Government policy currently recommends that custodial sentences and pre-trial remand is kept to a minimum in all but the most serious of cases.
Nearly nine in ten convictions in Fife resulted in a non-custodial sentence such as a tagging order or unpaid work - giving social workers more to do.
At present, the cash funding the extra staff is guaranteed for this year only, keeping the new social workers until next March. Unless the government agrees to provide further funding, they could disappear in 2022, putting further strain on the justice system.
In a bid to counter this councillors on Fife's community services sub-committee have agreed to write to Scotland's umbrella body for councils to begin lobbying ministers for more cash for future years.
Kirkcaldy North Labour councillor Neil Crooks, who led the calls to write to COSLA said: "This is quite a significant issue we need to get right into.
"While the Scottish Government has indicated the problem they've not indicated the solution very well.
"What if the government fails to come forward with a five-year funding agreement? If they don't we're going to be in a real mess with revenue [spending] at the next budget."
Buckhaven, Methil and Wemyss SNP rep Ken Caldwell added: "This money is welcome and I'm sure we'll make the most of it. It's a great commitment by the Scottish Government to provide good quality jobs - even if it's temporary to start with."
Less keen, however, was Cowdenbeath Conservative Darren Watt.
"People will see this as £1m going towards the criminals, not the victims," he said.