WE HAVE never been more alert than we are now to the risks presented by some of those who seek out work with children and other vulnerable people. Of course, the majority of those who take on such positions of responsibility are dedicated and honest, but there are a minority who abuse the trust we place in them.
That’s why the Disclosure Scotland system is so vitally important. Those applying to work with young or vulnerable people are obliged to undergo background checks which can prevent inappropriate candidates taking jobs which would allow them to abuse those in their care.
Sometimes it can seem as if the abuse of children is a modern phenomenon but, of course, the reality is that we are simply more alert to the risks. A consequence of the discovery that child abuse is more prevalent than previously considered was the introduction of tight background checks on people whose work gives them access to young people.
The reality of abuse might be hard to comprehend but we can be reassured that more than ever before is done to minimise the risks to children from sexual predators.
So, we are deeply concerned about a planned cut in the Scottish Government’s funding of the Disclosure Scotland scheme.
Figures contained within Finance Secretary John Swinney’s budget reveal that the agency is expected to bear an 88 per cent cut from £6.8 million in 2015/16 to just £0.8m in 2016/17 – less than an eighth of its former funding.
By any standards, and even at a time of economies across services, this is a massive reduction.
Disclosure Scotland exists to help make our schools and public sector bodies safe for those who use them and it would be deeply worrying if the work the agency carries out was to be watered down.
As Scottish Conservative MSP Liz Smith points out today, the public relies on Disclosure Scotland to prevent those with criminal pasts from working in certain fields.
We are inclined to agree with Smith’s claim that the public will be worried about the implications of this funding cut. According to Smith, the SNP has been “highly irresponsible” in cutting the Disclosure Scotland budget. Time will soon tell us if that is the case.
The Scottish Government insists that the budget cut will have no impact. The level of disclosure required for certain positions is governed by statute and not, therefore, subject to variation by the budget. The agency, a government spokesperson adds, meets most of its costs from income received in fees.
This is not an entirely reassuring response. If Disclosure Scotland requires almost £7m to support its vital work this year, how will it provide the same level of service with less than £1m over the following 12 months?
The SNP styles itself as the “anti-austerity” party, fighting the worst of cuts to services on behalf of the Scottish people.
But the reality is that the Scottish Nationalists’ budget last week failed to take any radical measures to mitigate cuts imposed by Westminster.
The SNP could have done much more to protect the budgets it cut last week. It could have raised taxes to ensure vital services remain fully-funded. It could have asked for just a little more from the middle classes to whom it has been so munificent in recent years. Instead, Swinney’s was a cautious budget aimed at middle Scotland: the freeze in council tax rates continues while public services suffer swingeing cuts; the pay packets of higher earners will not be lightened by use of Holyrood’s new powers over income tax.
The full implications of the cuts to services will not be known for some time, but it is hard to imagine lower funding meaning anything but a poorer quality of service.
We sincerely hope that, in the case of Disclosure Scotland, this does not turn out to be the case.