PLANS to create a £300,000 per year centre to help female criminals have been questioned following fears that it could become the city’s latest white elephant.
Edinburgh council has secured £604,000 of Scottish Government funding over two years to set up a new Community Justice for Women centre.
The centre, which aims to provide support to women who find themselves in trouble with the law and prevent them reoffending, is being established following a report commissioned by Holyrood.
But the Willow Service, which already offers comprehensive assistance to help female offenders in the city, last year received just 103 referrals.
City chiefs said while it was hoped the referral rate would increase, they admitted they had not set any targets for user numbers despite having plans in place to hire a full team of expensive staff to work in the new centre.
Although funding from the Scottish Government has been secured for two years, Holyrood has made it clear that the city will be left to pick up the bill if the service continues.
City health leader Ricky Henderson said: “The report recognises the disproportionate impact going through the criminal justice system has on women and those around them. The government has said they want to see an increase in these services and more work done with these women. They have made it clear we will have funding for two years and it will stop. We will then do an assessment on what the value has been.
“I don’t think it would be a good idea to have workers sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting for a referral.”
A location for the facility has not yet been found, although it is set to be in the centre. Renting premises is expected to cost £68,000 annually.
Women referred to the centre will receive health screening and psychological evaluation before being offered a series of support services. A centre manager will cost £55,000 per year, two social workers will cost a combined £76,000 with an additional £80,000 per year for other staff.
On average, 31 women from Edinburgh are jailed every year.
Senior Tory MSP and chief whip John Lamont said: “The Scottish Government has just embarked on a round of sheriff court closures, claiming it simply couldn’t afford to keep them open.
“But now it’s managed to find more than half a million pounds to temporarily fund a project which may end up only helping a handful of people.
“It has to justify this centre as a matter of urgency, and point to exactly how this will help the justice system in Edinburgh.
“There is already suspicion that the SNP wants to do away with imprisonment for almost all women in future.
“The last thing the public wants to see is this becoming another soft-touch alternative.”