Absolutely—I could not agree more. That speaks to the multi-sectoral approach that I indicated. Although police numbers and so on are important, it is not just about police—it is also about how we tackle this in our schools and our hospitals.
We know that crime is experienced disproportionately across the population, with the poorest and most disadvantaged being far more likely to be on the receiving end. The Scottish violence reduction unit is working with partners to develop innovative approaches to improving outcomes for individuals, families and communities. In the past decade, the Scottish Government have invested over £17 million in violence reduction programmes, including over £3.8 million in the “No Knives Better Lives” campaign. We have invested £12 million since 2008 in the violence reduction unit itself, which includes funding to deliver the mentors in violence prevention programme, which encourages young people not to stand by and allow violence to happen to them and those they know.
The Scottish Government’s implementation, with cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament, of an ambitious twin-track approach of pioneering violence prevention programmes, coupled with enhanced penalties and tough enforcement, has helped to deliver huge falls in violent crime over the last decade. Penalties for possession of a knife are higher in Scotland than in England and Wales, with a five-year maximum term, versus four years in England and Wales. The average length of custodial sentences for knife possession has increased by 85% since 2007-08, with the average sentence now being 421 days, up from 228 days in 2007-08.
As I said, a large part of our success in Scotland has been down to the violence reduction unit, which aims to deliver that reduction by working with partner agencies. Its motto, “Violence is preventable, not inevitable”, is simple but thus far has proved accurate. Influenced by the World Health Organisation’s 2002 report on violence and health, the VRU became the only police force in the world to adopt a public health approach to preventing violence. That includes prevention activity such as education and early intervention, coupled with appropriate law enforcement as necessary. In treating violence as essentially a disease, the VRU sought to diagnose the problem, analyse the causes, examine what works and for whom and develop specific and bespoke solutions that, once evaluated, could be scaled up to help others. That approach has undoubtedly helped and been admired elsewhere.