7. To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the rural affairs secretary has had with ministerial colleagues regarding the delivery of the rural crime strategy. (S6O-02202)
The Scottish Government takes all crime, including that committed in rural areas, extremely seriously.
Although delivery of the “Rural Crime Strategy 2022-2025” is a matter for Police Scotland and its partners within the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime, or SPARC as it is known, the Scottish Government is fully engaged with the work of SPARC and receives regular updates on its activity.
T he member will be aware that the overriding aim of the strategy is to protect rural communities through strong partnerships, and ministers are looking forward to hearing more about that work as it progresses.
SPARC has seen positive results in reductions in rural crime and associated financial costs in the past year alone. Between April 2022 and March 2023, there were 284 fewer rural crimes reported than there were in the previous year, as well as an overall reduction in the financial harm to Scotland’s rural communities of more than £2 million, which equates to a drop of almost 36 per cent. SPARC’s approach is working, so will the cabinet secretary meet me and SPARC to discuss what action can be taken to build further on the reduction in crime for our communities across Scotland?
I thank the member for highlighting those important statistics, which demonstrate how important and necessary SPARC’s work is. The member will be aware that the ministerial responsibility for rural crime sits with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs. However, the fight against rural crime requires, and benefits from, the support and input of all our ministerial colleagues.
As Emma Harper highlighted, the reduction in rural crime is testament to that partnership approach and the vital work of Police Scotland and the other partners that are involved in SPARC. Ministers would be delighted to join Emma Harper in meeting SPARC to discuss those issues further.
The SPARC report highlighted that the cost of rural theft of machinery was almost £350,000 in March alone. The north-east was identified as one of the most targeted areas and we are now heading into May and June, which are the worst months for theft. Bold steps need to be taken to tackle the issue, particularly when such crime makes it impossible for farmers to work. Does the cabinet secretary agree with the Scottish Conservatives’ plan to introduce immobilisers and regulate the sale of agricultural vehicles to reduce rural crime?
Despite the passing of Emma Harper’s law, there is still an enormous task ahead of us to stop dog attacks on lambs. The minister will have heard about the recent terrible attack near Kelty. There has also been a further attack at West Lomond where more sheep were lost. Both those farmers are incandescent with rage. Why have too many dog owners still not got the message?
It has been absolutely terrible to see some of the incidents that have taken place recently, especially at a time when we have been trying to increase awareness and do what we can to ensure that every dog owner is aware of their responsibilities, which are very clearly set out. We know that the penalties for that crime have increased due to the member’s bill that was taken forward by Emma Harper. Important work was done there, but I am more than happy to consider what more we can do to raise that awareness and ensure that we are doing everything we possibly can to get the message out there that all dogs should be on leads so that we are saved from truly horrendous scenes of the kind that we have seen in recent weeks.