Partnerships preventing violence: speech

Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, speaks at Police Scotland’s first violence prevention conference in Glasgow.

Good morning everyone. I am delighted to join you this morning to speak on the very important issue of tackling violence and violence prevention.

I've seen the programme and am sure you will have an informative and productive day. I am disappointed that prior commitments mean that I am unable to spend more time with you. Today's event will provide an opportunity to:

  • reflect on the real progress that we are collectively making in reducing serious violent crime right across Scotland
  • hear from a wide range of experts addressing specific current and emerging challenges such as Cyber-crime and Sextortion, and Corrosive Chemical Attacks
  • consider the strategic arrangements that we need to have in place to support and strengthen our public protection arrangements

My hope is that you'll see this as an opportunity to reflect on your own role and contribution in helping to keep people safe, whether that be as a frontline officer or whether you are a strategic leader in your organisation. Today should provide you with the opportunity to discuss and share experiences and understanding.

Before going much further I think it's worth reflecting on how far we've travelled in tackling violent crime in Scotland. There's absolutely no doubt Scotland is a safer place than it was a decade ago.

Recorded crime is down 38% since 2007-08 and is at its lowest level since 1974 – with fewer crimes, less violence, reduced drug use, and better support for those who are victims of crime or serious incidents.

Alongside enforcement of legislation, our approach has been one which has been increasingly focused on prevention and early intervention.

That is a big and decisive shift in our approach. Early years experiences, positive parenting and the experiences of having good healthy respectful relationships all play an absolutely central role tackling and preventing violent crime.

This is why we are working with a range of different partners to deliver a number of programmes and initiatives right across the country to support people to move away from a life of violent behaviour. And it's why we are building their capacity and potential to build on these in the months and years ahead.

Yes, there is much that we can rightly be proud of. But we certainly can't afford to be complacent. We must hold to the belief that violence is preventable, not inevitable. Only by tackling the underlying causes will we be able to break the cycle of violence and reduce the impact that is has on our communities.

A key part of tackling violence has been the support we've had through the Violence Reduction Unit. We support them very much in the way they identify, develop, co-ordinate and promote best practice in police and partnership approaches to tackling violence and violent crime.

We have invested nearly £9 million in the Unit since 2008, and it is now internationally recognised as being at the forefront of Scotland's pioneering public health approach to preventing violence, something I believe we should all be rightly proud of.

Indeed at the Canadian Municipal Network on Crime Prevention, they praised the work of the SVRU at the World Health Organisation's violence prevention alliance conference in Ottawa last month. Scotland's success has inspired them to take a drive in Canada to divert a tenth of policing budgets towards a preventative approach. I believe that is true recognition of the leadership the VRU and Scotland are demonstrating.

In addition to the excellent work with schools and youth organisations, in delivering programmes such as the Mentors in Violence Prevention programme, the VRUs collaboration with Medics Against Violence provides training to professionals across Scotland to recognise and act upon the signs of domestic abuse.

While these successes should encourage us all to look at doing more, we have to recognise that progress has not been felt equally in all our communities.

I don't accept that violence is something which 'just happens'. Our ambition therefore is for a truly inclusive, just and fairer Scotland, where everyone feels safe, secure and respected. The fact is that the big falls in crime that we have benefitted from over the last 10 or so years haven't been felt in our 15% most deprived communities. The poorest citizens in our society are still as likely to experience crime and victimisation.

That, in my view, demands a concerted, intelligent and focused action. We all need to focus our efforts and resources on the high harm causers, identifying the risky places, risky times, risky people and, of course, the people who are at risk.

In doing so we must recognise the relatively poor physical and mental health of people in contact with our justice system. We highlight this in our Justice Vision and Priorities strategy paper, which I launched in July.

That paper is a blueprint for justice in Scotland. It draws upon the latest evidence and builds on the outcomes and approach we set out in the first strategy for Justice in 2012 and the significant contribution the reform of our justice services has made to improving outcomes for people right across the country.

It has been developed in close collaboration with key stakeholders such as yourselves, and is a collective commitment to the key outcomes outlined in the updated Strategy.

We also published a Justice Delivery Plan to accompany the updated Vision setting out the actions we will take in the short term to move forward with the key priorities and we will review progress on an annual basis.

We are also taking further action to make sure there is collaboration between our justice and health service. You may be aware that the Health Secretary and I are currently engaging the leadership of the justice and health sectors to explore together what more can be done to ensure the response to people in distress is as timely and effective as it can be – supporting people to overcome personal challenges they face in a crisis, and reducing the risks of exacerbating these.

We must also draw lessons from the success of our decisive shift in our approach to youth justice, which has contributed a to huge fall in youth offending by intervening earlier and providing multi-agency support alongside significant investment in diversionary projects, and through schemes such as Cashback for Communities.

The Justice Vision outlined our commitment to a more progressive, evidence-based approach, prioritising prevention and rehabilitation alongside enhanced support for victims of crime.

An on-going priority through the Scottish Parliament is our work to combat violence against women and girls. Underpinning this work is Equally Safe, the Scottish Government strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls.

An Equally Safe delivery plan to deliver practical steps that will take us towards ending this violence for good was published on Friday just ahead of this year's 16 days of action to end violence against women campaign which runs until 10 December.

The theme of this year's 16 days of activism is 'Leave No One Behind: End Violence against Women and Girls' which reinforces the commitment to a world free from violence for all women and girls around the world .

As a Government, we are committed to tackling this issue and are changing the law, including delivering the new domestic abuse offence to better-tackle coercive and controlling behaviour, investing record levels of funding and taking action to support victims of gender-based violence, tackling perpetrators and tackling the underlying attitudes and inequalities that create the conditions for violence against women and girls to take place.

I note with interest the Conference is devoting sometime to Violence & Alcohol. It is worth bearing in mind that around half of violent crime is thought to be alcohol related. That's why we as a government are absolutely committed to protecting our communities as best we can from the harm caused by alcohol misuse and to support those blighted by the effects of alcohol to make positive choices.

The Scottish Government continues to take forward a range of actions to reduce alcohol misuse in Scotland. As many of you will be aware, on Wednesday the 15th of November the UK Supreme Court handed down a unanimous judgement rejecting the legal challenge to our pioneering legislation on Minimum Unit Pricing of alcohol – a significant step in the measures we take in order to reduce alcohol misuse in society. This is a very important decision, in my view, in order to help to support our approach to tackling this issue as an issue of public health concern. And it sits alongside the other actions we have set out in the Alcohol Framework.

Challenge 25 is one of a wide range of measures introduced by the Alcohol etc. (Scotland) Act 2010 and placed a requirement on all licensed premises to ensure they have an age verification policy in place, with the age set at a minimum of 25. Evaluation has found that Challenge 25 was broadly welcomed as an effective tool for restricting the sale of alcohol to young people.

The Scottish Business Resilience Centre has also been doing some good work to reduce the impact of alcohol fuelled violence:

  • over 420 licensed premises across Scotland are now accredited under Best Bar None, a scheme to address alcohol related crime and prevent children from harm
  • The Scottish Business Resilience Centre has developed a Retail Working Group representing 500 businesses across Scotland – this is targeted at preventing all crime in stores and shopping centres

Together these schemes help to drive down crime and violence in our towns, city centres, and shopping and retail parks.

We've got a world class police system in Scotland, supported by hugely dedicated professionals right across the service who work each and every day to secure the safety and wellbeing of the people and communities of Scotland.

I will not go into too much detail about the Force's 7 Strategic Police Priorities for Scotland. But I particularly wanted to emphasise a couple which I believe are crucial to the values within the Police service here in Scotland:

  • inclusion where no one is discriminated against or denied opportunities on the basis of race or ethnicity, disability, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion/belief or because of where they live
  • collaborative Working where our police service works productively with partners at local, national and international levels to deliver better outcomes for people in Scotland - Police Scotland are already key contributors to a number of groups at a local level including Community Planning Partnerships, Alcohol and Drug Partnerships and Child Protection Committees
  • and Localism where police officers are working in partnership through our schools, community groups and local community initiatives; and whose visibility reassures our communities on a daily basis

Police Scotland are already working to give further effect to the Priorities through their corporate planning processes. This is perhaps best demonstrated through the "Local Approaches to Policing" programme currently being developed by the service as part of Policing 2026. "Local Approaches" will seek to identify the most effective models for working with our remote, rural and urban communities.

A particular focus will be on improving the response to people with mental ill health and vulnerability, including introduction of the THRIVE risk assessment model. This will change how vulnerability is assessed at first contact and beyond, enabling the police service and its partners to respond in a way that best meets the needs of vulnerable service users.

Police Scotland has made a major contribution across all three strands – deploying their collective local, regional and national resources wherever needed to promote community safety and protect the public.

The '2026' strategy also recognises and responds to the demands placed upon policing from vulnerability and the consequences of inequalities within our society.

Finally I hope you will take time in your busy day to take in The Balisong play. I was lucky enough to catch the play on a recent visit to Ardrossan Academy.

It was a compelling performance, which forms a creative part of the Scottish Government funded No Knives Better Lives initiative, conveying important messages to young people by young people about the dangers of knife carrying. It has been performed at 64 schools, reaching around 12,000 pupils, over the last three months.

As well as the impact on me personally when I watched the play, I was struck by the conversations I had afterwards with the young people. Young people now identify the risk very clearly of carrying a knife or someone else in the school who is carrying a knife, and have the confidence to report that if they are aware of it.

It's a unique approach to ensure we're doing everything possible to prevent young people getting involved in violent crime.

The challenge for us all is to continue to provide example and visible leadership in an environment which remains challenging and emotive. I am very grateful for your continued and extensive efforts on our behalf and look forward to hearing about your discussions and ideas today

So in the spirit of partnership, thank you for listening to me and I hope you enjoy the rest of your day.

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