Cabinet Secretary for Justice
In 2015, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act was unanimously passed by the Scottish Parliament. The Act strengthened support for victims and provided new instruments to police and prosecutors to disrupt and bring to justice those responsible. In addition, the Act required Scottish Ministers to develop and publish a trafficking and exploitation strategy and review that strategy within three years of publication.
Scotland's first Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy was published in 2017. The Strategy was developed in genuine partnership and identified a number of short and longer term aims to tackle this horrific crime and support victims. The publication of the third annual progress report and review of the Strategy is an important juncture, not just for the Scottish Government, but for all partners who have worked collectively across the Action Areas and Child Trafficking Strategy Group.
However, I want to acknowledge the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted on the final months of the review period. While a vast amount of engagement had taken place prior to the pandemic, key victim engagement sessions had to be postponed in order to ensure the safety of participants, in line with public health advice. The Scottish Government has significantly restructured and re-prioritised to respond effectively to the COVID-19 emergency, and this has also impacted on the resources available to develop the report and on the level of scrutiny that we have been able to afford to key partners – many of whom have also been rightly focusing their efforts on the frontline response to the pandemic.
The difficulties of the last few months do not, however, take away from the many achievements over the preceding three years. Extending support to victims of trafficking and exploitation for up to 90 days was a major step forward in the care and protection available in Scotland. Likewise, the use of Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Orders (TEPOs) ensures those convicted of trafficking offences will have strict conditions attached to their lives beyond their immediate sentence. For children, revised age assessment practice guidance was published in 2018, and training is currently being taken forward to support implementation of the guidance. In partnership with Action Area 3 and the Corporate Group, in October 2018 we published guidance for businesses on how to mitigate the risks of trafficking and exploitation within their own operations and supply chains. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), a key Strategy implementation partner, have published guidance for local authorities and led by NHS Health Scotland, guidance for health workers on the signs of trafficking and what actions to take was published in October 2019.
Each year since 2013, the number of trafficking victims identified in Scotland has increased. In 2018, 228 potential victims of trafficking and exploitation were identified rising to 512 in the year to 31 December 2019 – an increase of 125%. Greater understanding and awareness of trafficking is supporting increased levels of identification which is in part a result of work by the Scottish Government and partners to implement the Strategy.
To support the increasing number of referrals, I have approved business plans from TARA and Migrant Help which will expand the accommodation available to both providers and ensure survivors are provided with high quality support services despite the increase in demand.
We have undertaken an extensive programme of engagement to review the Strategy and further detail on this can be found within the report. I am pleased that this was largely completed before the impact of COVID-19, since collaboration and joint working has been at the heart of development and implementation of the Strategy.
It is clear from the many discussions, surveys and events we have held that although improvements and refinements could be made to aspects, the Strategy remains fit for purpose and provides an effective framework for continuing to improve in the short term.
However, I want to set out a commitment now that we will work with all partners and other interests to develop and publish a revised and updated Strategy. The final section of this report sets out some of the areas where the Strategy may be amended. Under normal circumstances I would set a timescale for this work but given the uncertainty of the current situation that could constrain an effective process.
Tackling human trafficking and exploitation remains a key priority for the Scottish Government and I would like to place on record my continued thanks to all those involved in developing and implementing the Strategy. The Strategy is making a real and continued difference to victims and survivors while identifying and disrupting those who seek to profit from the trafficking and exploitation of human beings.