We are providing £18.7 million in 2020-21 to support victims of crime. We have also invested £12 million to tackle violence against women and girls, and provided an additional £5.75 million in-year in recognition of the impact of the on-going restrictions on those who are experiencing domestic abuse. That includes funding for organisations that provide front-line practical, emotional and financial support to victims and survivors across Scotland, including in remote and rural communities. Support can be accessed by telephone, live web chat or, when Covid restrictions allow, very much in person.
I declare an interest, as I am a board member of Shetland Women’s Aid.
People on the islands are getting a poor deal on legal aid assistance. I am told that legal aid does not cover the cost of travel to the islands. Domestic abuse survivors are forced to look to the mainland for legal aid solicitors because they cannot access that service locally. Other constituents tell me that they have given up important civil appeal opportunities because of those barriers to legal access. What will the cabinet secretary do to address that geographical inequality?
I confirm to Beatrice Wishart that I will take a closer look at that issue. She may be aware that the Minister for Community Safety has previously said that we intend, pending the election, to introduce a legal aid bill. Those important issues, and many others, can be consulted on in our consideration of such a bill.
However, if we can do something in the more immediate term, I am happy to look at that. If Beatrice Wishart would allow me to do so, I will take a closer look at the issue and make sure that we respond to her in greater detail.
With rural areas often forgotten by the Scottish National Party, and fewer police officers now in the Borders, research shows that one in four people are not reporting a rural crime of which they were a victim. What efforts is the Scottish Government making to work with rural communities to ensure that crime is reported, and to address the reasons why the perception of police performance has declined?
I disagree with Rachael Hamilton’s characterisation that police performance has somehow declined. Quite the opposite: we should be thanking our police officers for the incredible work that they and police staff have done throughout the pandemic to keep Scotland safe. Scotland has one of its lowest crime rates in the past 40 years. Not only that, there have been significant reductions in violent crime over the past decade, as well as reductions in many other categories of crime. That is replicated right across Scotland.
Of course, divisional numbers and local, sub-divisional numbers of police officers are important. Rachael Hamilton should recognise that national resources can also make a huge impact at a local level. For example, national funding and resource put into major investigations can have an impact on local divisions, too. If Rachael Hamilton has particular operational issues that she wishes to raise with her local divisional commander, she should do so.