Disclosure Scotland funding cut sparks abuse fears

John Swinney's decision to slash funding for Disclosure Scotland has been condemned as 'highly irresponsible' by MSP Liz Smith. Picture: Neil Hanna

John Swinney's decision to slash funding for Disclosure Scotland has been condemned as 'highly irresponsible' by MSP Liz Smith. Picture: Neil Hanna

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THE body charged with carrying out criminal record checks is facing a massive cut in Scottish Government funding, prompting fears that children and vulnerable adults could be exposed to abusers.

Politicians and victims’ charities have expressed alarm at Scottish ministers’ proposals to cut the Disclosure Scotland budget from £6.8 million in 2015-16 to just £800,000 the following year.

The 88 per cent decrease in the amount of cash to be spent on the Scottish Government agency was condemned by charities helping victims of sexual abuse.

Disclosure Scotland oversees the system of vetting people working with children and vulnerable adults and was set up in the wake of the Dunblane massacre of 1997 that saw Thomas Hamilton shoot 16 children and their teacher at their primary school.

It plays a vital role in researching the criminal records of new members of staff at schools and other public sector bodies.

The dramatic fall in cash allocated to the organisation was contained in the small print of John Swinney’s budget, which the Finance Secretary presented to Holyrood last week.

Last night Sandra Brown, the founder of the Moira Anderson Foundation set up to help abuse victims, condemned the cuts.

“These figures are alarming,” said Brown, who has been awarded an OBE for services to child protection. “They cause real concern to us. Since the (Jimmy) Savile exposure, the number of referrals coming to us have gone up.

“Disclosure Scotland offers a crucial safeguard against abuse, yet it is to suffer from a massive cutback. It was set up following the Thomas Hamilton shootings in 1997, although it took a few years to set up.

“We need to ensure that the disclosure system continues to work in a coherent way and this is a safeguard that should not be cut back. Disclosure Scotland plays a crucial role and it cannot be left just to tick along. It has to be properly supported.

“I find it quite inexplicable and it is as if the implications have not been thoroughly looked into. It is a very worrying implication of the budget.”

Ann Moulds of Action Scotland Against Stalking said: “It is a huge amount. It’s scary. There are so many offenders out in the community being given community-based sentences as a result of Scottish Government criminal justice reforms. A lot of people on our streets are sexual offenders, so we rely on these disclosures.

“What is going to be the impact of these cuts? That is my concern. We are talking about personal security here and I don’t think the Scottish Government can afford to compromise on that.”

The cuts came to light when the Scottish Conservatives scrutinised Swinney’s draft budget for 2016-17.

Scottish Conservative young people spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “This is a huge cut for an important agency which safeguards our young people and vulnerable adults.

“Organisations and people rely on Disclosure Scotland to find out if a potential employer has a criminal past and it serves a hugely important function.

“It’s highly irresponsible of the SNP government to cut 
the finances for such an important organisation and the public will quite rightly be worried.

“We would urge the Scottish Government to look at this again. We cannot afford for any criminals to slip through the net.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The level of disclosure required for roles, for example working with children, is governed by statute. As such, they are not subject to variation by the budget.

“Disclosure Scotland meets most of its costs from income received from fees, not from the Scottish Government.

“What budget the Scottish Government does provide is for accounting requirements such as depreciation, the cost of fees that are waived and support for organisations that do not have the capacity to register with Disclosure Scotland. As a result, the exact level of budget required varies from year to year.”

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