Glasgow has a reputation for knife crime, and it is absolutely right that tackling that is a priority for the police, council and other agencies of the city.
In recent decades the city has taken huge strides forward, both in terms of the way it was marketed – from “Glasgow’s Miles Better” to “Scotland With Style” – and through social policy development such as the move away from often dehumanising high-rise living and the transfer of housing stock away from the dead hand of the local authority to housing associations.
There was a problem, however, which even innovative marketing and genuine social reform could do nothing about: Glasgow’s notorious reputation as a city scarred (in both senses of the word) by knife crime. Initiative after initiative came and went including, famously, the weapons amnesty, mainly aimed at gang- related knife crime, championed in the 1960s by the singer Frankie Vaughan. Nothing seemed to work. Now there appears to be some hope that the battle against Glasgow’s knife culture is beginning to be won.
Figures released yesterday show that in 2012-13, there were 903 assaults involving blades, compared with 1,439 the year before, a fall of 37 per cent. This represents a fall of 57 per cent from the 2,138 knife attacks recorded in 2006-07, the year that Stephen House took over as Strathclyde Police chief constable.
Why has this happened? Police are in no doubt. It is, they say, in a large part down to the huge increase in “stop-and-search” actions in Glasgow. In November, 2007, the month Sir Stephen, as he now is, took over as chief constable, the number carried out in Glasgow was 4,356. This figure has risen to 26,669.
Stop-and-search is controversial and, as we have reported in the past, this method of policing has spread across Scotland after Sir Stephen took over as chief constable of the new national police force. It is not without its critics. The practice is said to be at odds with people’s human rights, with members of the public being stopped and searched without the police having reasonable suspicions of their having committed a crime.
It is undoubtedly a sound principle of a modern society that people should be able to go about their business free from unwarranted police interference. We must be ever vigilant to threats to our liberties. But in assessing where we stand in this delicate balance between human rights and measures to cut crime we must also look at the evidence.
In this case, it is overwhelming. Stop-and-search has not ended knife crime in Glasgow but it has substantially reduced it. This is no mean achievement in what was once no mean city. If our largest conurbation is a safer place for it, then other parts of the country where there is a problem with knife crime can follow Glasgow’s lead. Stop-and-search, properly monitored, has its uses.
Top call rate adds to student burden
The Student Loans Company is responsible for overseeing the repayment of the money young people borrow to see them through further and higher education.
In an ideal world we would not have student loans but in difficult economic times, and with the expansion of the numbers going into FE and HE, helping students with government-backed debt is a modern necessity.
It might have been thought that having burdened young men and women with debt, all the loan company did was to make sure they paid it back over time. It seems to have been doing a little more than that.
The company has been getting students to use call lines which can charge 41p a minute from a mobile to get in touch when they need information or help.
As we report today, the company has raised a significant sum of money – more than £1 million in revenue over the past five years – using these 0845 numbers.
It is true that the SLC, which answers to ministers in the UK and devolved governments, is a not-for-profit organisation so the money is used to help it do its job.
Nonetheless, it seems odd, to put it mildly, that students who already have debts are forced to spend more money, possibly adding a little more to that debt, to contact the company.
SNP ministers have made much of their policy that higher education for Scots in Scotland is “free”.
However, in the spirit of this noble objective the Holyrood administration should abolish this expensive phone charge practice. Students who have debt should not be paying the company which organises it top dollar.