The member will be aware that, over the past few months, Scotland’s groundbreaking public health approach to violent crime of the past decade or so has been subject to much praise from across the United Kingdom and internationally. Violent crime is reducing in Scotland and, since 2006-07, recorded violent crime in Scotland has fallen by 49 per cent to one of the lowest levels seen since 1974. That is welcome, but no level of violence is acceptable. That is why we are continuing to invest in the Scottish violence reduction unit, medics against violence, YouthLink Scotland and their many partners to deliver violence prevention programmes to tackle violence wherever it persists in Scotland.
The Scottish Government statistics that were released last week show that, in South Lanarkshire, offences in which a firearm was alleged to have been involved have increased by 150 per cent since 2015-16. That is the largest increase in Scotland by a mile. In North Lanarkshire, the figure went up by 40 per cent. Does the minister agree that that is unacceptable and will she endeavour to find out what is being done to stem the tide of such incidents across Lanarkshire?
I agree that no level of firearm use in Scotland is acceptable. We are doing all that we can to reduce firearms incidents in Scotland and I will write to the member with further details on that.
Police officer numbers in Scotland remain significantly above the level that we inherited in 2007—that is one way in which we combat firearms. The number of officers in Scotland has risen by more than 900 since March 2007. At the same time, there has been a reduction of almost 20,000 officers in England and Wales. As usual, the rhetoric from the Conservatives on the issue does not match their record.
Although the figures for many violent crimes in Scotland are going down, the number of sexual offences continues to rise. Sexual crimes are now at their highest level since 1971. They affect Scotland’s women the most.
What steps is the Scottish Government taking to tackle the decades-long rise in sexual offences? What is it doing to ensure that women get support to bring their attackers to justice?
I thank the member for raising a very important issue. There are a range of issues lying behind the increase in recorded sexual crime, including a greater willingness among victims to come forward, more reporting of historical offences and the impact of new legislation. The Scottish Government provides support for victims through targeted funding, legislative improvements and partnership working with agencies and stakeholders. We are implementing equally safe, which is our strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls, and our equally safe delivery plan contains 118 commitments to achieve that.
In 2015, the First Minister announced a £20 million violence against women and girls justice fund to improve the experience of and outcomes for victims. The fund supported prevention and early intervention work. Those aims continue to inform our funding strategy.
Unfortunately, comparing levels of violent crime in Scotland with those south of the border is not a simple process because of the use of different definitions and data collection methods in recorded crime data and in our respective surveys.
However, our statistics demonstrate that we have seen significant decreases in the levels of violence across Scotland and, since 2006-2007, a 49 per cent decrease in recorded violent crime; a 51 per cent drop in the number of victims of homicide; and a 55 per cent fall in the total number of emergency admissions to hospital resulting from assault.