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Seòmar agus comataidhean

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 8, 2023


Cashback for Communities

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-11127, in the name of Siobhian Brown, on cashback for communities. I invite members who wish to participate in the debate to press their request-to-speak button now or as soon as possible.

I invite Siobhian Brown to speak to and move the motion. Minister, you have around 11 minutes.


The Minister for Victims and Community Safety (Siobhian Brown)

Many members will already be familiar with the cashback for communities programme and the work that it delivers in their communities. Some may have even visited projects in their area to see the work at first hand.

The cashback programme, which is unique to Scotland, takes funds that are recovered from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and returns them to communities. The funds are used to deliver a range of community projects and activities to support children and young people who are aged between 10 and 25.

The Scottish Government has delivered five phases of the cashback programme since its inception in 2008, committing up to £130 million over that time. The investment has provided more than 2.5 million activities and opportunities, and it has supported more than 1.3 million young people as it has grown in breadth and diversity over the years.

In its early days, the programme funded investment in football facilities and playing fields to divert youth away from antisocial behaviour. It has now developed into a multifaceted programme of activities that range from intensive one-to-one support for young people and their families, including counselling for trauma, to skills development, creative arts development, volunteering and employability work.

The diversity and accessibility of the programme is greater than ever, with projects being offered to young people in every one of our local authorities. It supports young people of all backgrounds to engage in projects that help to build their confidence, encourage positive life choices and raise their aspirations.

Today, we publish the “Cashback for Communities Impact Report 2022-23”, which is the final annual report from phase 5 of the programme, which ran from April 2022 to March 2023. Almost all of phase 5 was delivered during the global Covid-19 pandemic period. That was a time of unprecedented upheaval and challenge, when young people faced immense disruption to and uncertainty in their lives, and when all the projects were impacted.

Year 3, which was from April 2022 to March 2023 covers a period when lockdown restrictions finally ended and young people started to rebuild their lives.

Against that context, the 2022-23 impact report shows that the programme still achieved remarkable outcomes for children and young people. That is testament to the dedication of all those who were involved in delivering the cashback programme. Projects that would traditionally have been delivered face to face or inside a venue became very difficult to run during Covid, and it was a real challenge to find activities that could be offered to young people, as access to venues and facilities was unavailable due to social distancing restrictions.

Many organisations piloted online delivery and outdoor approaches to ensure that thousands of potentially isolated young people could be reached and supported during that time. Where that was not possible—for example, in projects working with young people in prison—alternative creative approaches were used to keep in touch with participants, such as broadcasting messages to prisoners using prison radio.

The impact of the pandemic was far reaching, and cashback organisations responded to the immediate needs of many children, young people and families, including, for example, by delivering food parcels. Phase 5 organisations are to be commended for their response to the pandemic at a time when their own organisations were also dealing with challenges as a result of sickness and furloughed staff.

Up to £19 million was committed to support the phase 5 cashback programme. The impact report shows the positive benefits of the projects that were funded during that phase. There were 28,060 young people participating in year 3 activities, and 78 per cent of the participants were from the 30 per cent most deprived communities. Young people achieved a wide range of outcomes. More than 21,000 reported “increased confidence” and improved health and wellbeing; nearly 17,000 reported positive behavioural changes and achieved positive destinations that included staying on at school, further education, training and employment; and nearly 15,000 said that “they felt less inclined” to take part in antisocial behaviour. In addition, more than 4,000 undertook 115,000 hours of volunteering.

We can all celebrate those positive achievements, but it is directly from those young people that we get some of the most powerful endorsements of the programme. On their time in the programme, one young person offered the following reflection:

“I’m keeping my head down. Since I got this job, I haven’t been hanging about and it’s kept me busy. If I hadn’t got this job, I would probably still be kicking about getting into trouble.”

The feedback from families was also positive. For example, one parent observed:

“I’ve never seen him so confident, he is quite happy being independent at the session now and getting involved with activities and making friends.”

In addition, 97 per cent of other stakeholders, such as teachers and project workers, perceived improvements in wellbeing indicators, and

“92% ... reported a reduction in risk-taking behaviours”.

The incredible work of our cashback-funded partners is founded on their total commitment to understanding the needs of the young people with whom they engage. Phase 5 partners were the first group of cashback organisations to embed children’s rights and wellbeing in the cashback programme. All 24 cashback organisations reviewed their work against the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in order to ensure that the needs and rights of children and young people remained central to the programme, and the children and young people themselves were active participants in that process. They were also involved in shaping phase 5 projects and in providing feedback to help to frame our next phase.

We surveyed more than 850 cashback participants during phase 5, and the findings were clear. Most of the participants thought that

“the proceeds of crime should be reinvested in those communities most impacted”.

There was also an

“Overwhelming positive response”


“the value ... wide range and easy accessibility of CashBack ... projects”,

which participants viewed as

“highly inclusive”.

Young people placed

“most value on ... mental health, particularly in relation to confidence, anxiety and social interaction”,


“acquiring new skills and experiences”


“improving support networks through 1 to 1 support and guidance, from trusted and experienced mentors and staff.”

It was noted that, in several instances, young people reported that that had allowed them to stop or reduce

“offending behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harming”,

and to rebuild

“positive family relationships”.

In addition, “volunteering and community connectivity” were also highly valued by the participants.

I hope that members will take time to view the 2022-23 impact report in full and agree that it demonstrates that cashback is a highly impactful programme that is worth every penny invested.

A full evaluation of phase 5 will be published before the end of the year. It is important that we do that at the end of each three-year phase to ensure that the work that we fund remains relevant, adds value to our young people and has a positive impact on our communities.

The end of phase 5 this year also marks the beginning of the next phase of the cashback for communities programme. Phase 6 will run from April 2023 to March 2026, with a further commitment of up to £20 million. That significant investment, which comes from money that is recovered from the proceeds of crime, reflects our confidence in the programme.

Each phase is underpinned by a robust application process where organisations are able to submit project proposals. Successful applicants were awarded grant funding for a three-year period. Phase 6 was the most competitive round of funding so far, with the programme significantly oversubscribed. Unfortunately, we were not able to fund every proposal; only the strongest applications were successful, and I am sure that they will all be as successful as previous projects.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting all 29 phase 6 cashback partners to learn about the range of work that is planned for the next three years. I was really impressed by the strength of the projects and the passion and professionalism of all the organisations.

The focus of phase 6 projects is to support young people—who are most at risk of being involved in antisocial behaviour offending or reoffending—towards or into positive destinations. Fund projects will provide support for young people, parents and families who are impacted by adverse childhood experiences and trauma, support young people to improve their health, mental health and wellbeing, and also support the people, families and communities who are most affected by crime.

The latest cohort of projects is both strong and diverse. In addition to traditional youth work, sporting activities, employability, and culture and arts projects, we have strengthened the range of options that are available to support girls and young women, young carers and homeless young people.

We have also increased our commitment to diversity by investing in key work to promote children’s rights, racial equality and disability. Cashback also aims to include support for young people who have been in conflict with the justice system.

This morning, I was pleased to visit the violent offender watch—VOW—cashback project, which is delivered by Police Scotland in partnership with the charity Aid & Abet. The intensive support project aims to remove young people from the criminal justice system and support them into positive destinations. The collaboration between police officers and peer mentors is a fantastic model for building trust with young people and helping them to make positive choices. It was a privilege to meet those people who are involved in delivering the project as well as one of the young people who has really benefited from it in the past few months.

Previous feedback from one young person who engaged with the project during phase 5 is testament to the impact of the programme. They said:

“Had I not ... met the VOW Project I have no idea where I would be with my drinking but believe I would have continued to escalate further in criminality and self-destruction.”

The cashback project work that is delivered in those and similar settings across the country is helping young people to rebuild their lives, family connections and relationships with their community.

I move,

That the Parliament commends the CashBack for Communities programme, which is now in its 15th year and sixth phase; understands that the programme is unique to Scotland and reinvests money recovered under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002; acknowledges that the aims of the programme are diversion from antisocial behaviour, provision of positive activity, support for wellbeing, and building confidence and skills for young people; notes that, since its inception, the programme has committed £130 million to supporting around 1.3 million young people; understands that, over the next three years, phase six of the programme is expected to reach around 34,000 young people; welcomes and thanks the CashBack for Communities-funded partner organisations for their dedication, passion and hard work; recognises the opportunities and benefits that the programme brings to children, young people, families and communities, and applauds the achievements of the many thousands of CashBack for Communities participants.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We are tight for time across the rest of the afternoon, so members who want to speak should press their request-to-speak buttons now.

I call Russell Findlay to speak to and move amendment S6M-11127.2 for up to seven minutes.


Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

We agree with the Scottish Government motion on cashback for communities, and I hope that the Government finds agreement with our constructive amendment.

Drug dealers prey on the weak and the vulnerable, they inflict misery and death across Scotland, and their dirty money poisons society and the economy. The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 was groundbreaking when it came into force in 2004. The police were excited at the prospect of the powerful new weapon, and the crime gangs were in a panic. The rules, we were told, had changed—crime would no longer pay. Working as a journalist, I bought it. Dirty fortunes could be seized by using the less onerous civil standard of proof, “the balance of probabilities”.?Crucially, a criminal conviction would not be required.

In the crosshairs were the besuited bosses who do not get their manicured hands dirty. They stay at arm’s length from the drugs that kill countless numbers of our people and they never personally wield the knife or fire the gun. The first significant Scottish case became a protracted farce—a decade-long quagmire of legal attrition—and, in the end, the dirty fortune was whittled down to nothing, having lined only the pockets of lawyers.

That exposed the limitations of the new law and resulted in a fundamental change of direction. The new focus was instead on proceeds of crime being pursued after a criminal conviction had been secured. Of course, every single penny that is snatched from criminals and ploughed back into our communities is welcome—there is no question about that. Many young people across Scotland have benefited from the £130 million of dirty money distributed by cashback for communities, and the programme’s work makes a positive difference to many young lives. However, the cost of organised crime in Scotland is counted not in the millions but in the billions. The early optimism of the proceeds of crime programme has become blunted, and every week we see examples of that in the courts: cases in which vast criminal fortunes have been generated only for a fraction to be subject to a confiscation order.

Take the example of the international drug dealer James White from Glasgow. The Crown Office says, with confidence, based on the evidence, that he made £126 million—£126,241,001.29, to be precise—from killing countless Scots. That drug dealer has made the same amount as the entire 15-year spend of cashback for communities. How much of White’s drug money do the authorities hope to get their hands on? The answer is just more than £118,000, which represents less than 0.1 per cent. I hope that that example, and many others, will persuade the Government to look again at the legislation.

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

The member makes a very important point. I want to ask a question that I intend to be helpful, although it might be too complicated to answer here and now. What can one can do to recoup the extra money that he refers to? What is missing? What would he suggest that the review should do?

Russell Findlay

I will attempt to come on to that, but I have a lot to say.

Criminals now regard proceeds of crime orders as a form of retrospective taxation—essentially, an occupational hazard—but, even then, once they have been served with a confiscation order, they often refuse to pay up. Last year, £12 million of confiscation orders were unpaid and unknown sums have been written off. That is wrong and should form part of any widespread review. A renewed and robust proceeds of crime law could yield even more money for our communities.

I have a specific concern that relates to cashback for communities and amateur boxing. Many boxing clubs are great forces for good; they are at the heart of communities and are run by decent people who support young people and help keep them out of trouble. However, they tell me of significant infiltration by organised crime. We see the same in professional boxing, with the Kinahan cartel and its Scottish associates. Real boxing people despise that contamination of their sport.

That brings me back to James White, the £126 million drug dealer, because he sought legitimacy by coaching kids at a Glasgow boxing club. That same club has received money from cashback for communities, which seeks to divert youths from crime. It would be perverse if money seized from drug dealers should end up being returned to drug dealers. I therefore urge the Scottish Government to conduct an audit of where that money ends up.

Our amendment also calls for the Scottish Government to update its serious organised crime strategy. I have very little time left, but I will say that I believe that much more needs to be done to tackle the flow of laundered drugs money into society. One area of particular concern is sport—not only boxing but professional football. Just as in boxing, good people in football have no time for the exploitation of the national game by drug dealers. Police Scotland previously issued a video, warning young players about organised criminals posing as football agents, and prominent lawyers and former players provide a veneer of respectability. It is a significant problem, and there is evidence that drugs money has seeped into the ownership and control of senior football clubs.

In football, much of that is an open secret, but it appears that no one is willing or able to talk about it publicly. In seven minutes, it is impossible to go into a sufficient level of detail, but we should all be in agreement that, in Scotland, crime should not pay. Today, that is not something that I have any confidence in saying.

I move amendment S6M-11127.2, to insert at end:

“; recognises that the money recovered from the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 does not match the vast wealth accumulated by criminals in Scotland; acknowledges that the activities of organised crime groups, including drug dealing, have a devastating impact on communities, resulting in a high number of deaths; calls, therefore, on the Scottish Government to review the effectiveness of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which was fully enacted in March 2004, with a view to increasing the amount of money that can be recovered, and urges the Scottish Government to update its Serious Organised Crime strategy to ensure that tackling damaging, high-level criminality remains a key priority of the justice system.”


Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

I am pleased to follow Russell Findlay, who makes a powerful case for a review, and to open the debate on behalf of Scottish Labour.

We support the programme and efforts to work with young people, direct them to positive destinations and reduce reoffending. Cashback for communities is the continuation of a scheme to reinvest the proceeds of crime that was first established by Scottish Labour in Government in 2006. That, in turn, drew from the framework in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which was introduced by the Labour Government of the time.

Two decades on, with the challenges of Tory austerity and the pandemic, there is absolutely no doubt that youth services in Scotland are in a sorry state. However, as we know, young people still face many challenges. The diverse activities that the minister has spoken about are a clear component of any functioning justice system, and they provide alternatives for those who might be drawn into crime. The antisocial behaviour that was on display at the weekend testifies to the fact that prevention of crime, and better outcomes for those who are at risk of involvement, must be a crucial part of addressing criminal behaviour in the first place.

There must be greater clarity on what metrics the Scottish Government is using to measure the success of the various activities that are being supported by the scheme. I note that those metrics are not set out in the latest evaluation report for 2020 to 2023, which was published on the cashback for communities website, and, as a result, I would welcome feedback from the minister on that point.

Other than assessments of positive destinations, it is not clear whether there is concrete evidence to conclude that those specific projects are reducing crime. I am also unclear as to how organisations are selected, so it would be helpful if the minister could say more on that, too.

Many of the organisations that are funded are national charities. However, I think that we will all know of schemes through which local groups in our constituencies receive valuable funding. One example is in North Ayrshire. As well as getting the benefits of having the national governing bodies for football and rugby, which have received hundreds of thousands of pounds between them, the area also has a number of local sports projects that receive support.

It would be good to know whether smaller, grass-roots organisations, such as council-run youth clubs, tend to bid for grants. The sums awarded to a relatively small number of large organisations clearly have benefit, but the fact is that almost all such projects are now delivered by the third sector. Of course, charities and not-for-profit organisations are not subject to freedom of information coverage, despite receiving public money, albeit that those funds are recovered from criminal activities rather than from taxation. Therefore, it is more important that the Scottish Government provides transparency, as it would not only be of public benefit but allow us to better guide projects and assess outcomes for the young people whom they support.

I also point out that the amount of funds that are recovered to support those projects in the first place is relatively small. I understand that £7 million was recovered in 2020-21, which was the last financial year to be measured, but the Scottish Government’s assessment in 2017 was that organised crime cost the Scottish economy £2 billion a year.

Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

The member will be aware of the cross-border nature of much of that crime, including the supply of drugs to Scotland by road and rail from England. Given that, does she agree that, if the United Kingdom Government were to take the same approach as the Scottish Government and apply the cashback for communities approach to some of the proceeds of crime in England, that could benefit the people of Scotland? If she does agree, will she agree to write with me to the UK Government to propose such a change?

Katy Clark

I would be very happy to write to the UK Government with Keith Brown. He clearly has a huge amount of experience to draw upon and I am sure that he is absolutely correct in what he is saying.

As Russell Findlay has said, one person from an organised crime group in Scotland reportedly made more than £126 million, yet only 0.1 per cent of that money was confiscated. I am clear that organised criminal gangs do not stop at borders. The more cross-border co-operation there is, the better, and I would welcome clarity on what steps are being taken and, indeed, what dialogue ministers are having with the UK Government as well as with Police Scotland and the Crown Office to ensure that more money is being recovered in cases for potential use in supporting community projects. I would also welcome the minister outlining the work that is being done to increase the moneys being recovered.

As I have said, Russell Findlay has made a powerful case for review. I make it clear to the minister that Scottish Labour supports the cashback for communities scheme, but I hope that she will address the issues and concerns that have been raised in the debate as well as respond to the reference in Labour’s amendment to restorative justice.

I move amendment S6M-11127.1, to insert at end:

“, and recognises the importance of access to restorative justice practices, not only as a measure to prevent antisocial behaviour, but also as a tool for young people who are already involved in the criminal justice system.”


Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

I am pleased to speak in this debate on the cashback for communities programme.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats believe that reducing crime involves a co-ordinated approach across sectors, from tackling homelessness and offering more education and training opportunities to more outreach youth services and stronger action to help recovery from, and prevention of, drug and alcohol abuse. The cashback for communities programme supports organisations that work to help to achieve crime reduction. Money that is recovered under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 is reinvested into organisations that work to support young people who are at risk of being involved in antisocial behaviour, offending or reoffending.

As others have highlighted, the 29 partner organisations in this phase of the programme cover a range of projects across Scotland. Examples include Edinburgh Young Carers, which provides mental health support, core skills development and respite activities for children and young people who care for parents who are affected by alcohol or substance abuse in the most deprived areas of the capital. Starcatchers works with young parents in Fife who live in areas of socioeconomic deprivation in order to improve their mental health, as well as their social and emotional wellbeing.

Working with young people from across Scotland who have been impacted by adverse childhood experiences, Ocean Youth Trust Scotland develops young people’s confidence, resilience and teamwork skills through outdoor education. Sail Training gives young people the opportunity for personal development through the experience of a lifetime. In my Shetland Islands constituency, cashback for communities funding has supported extracurricular programmes focused on road safety.

Those are just some examples of the positive impact that funding from cashback for communities can have by supporting projects that build the capacity, resilience and confidence of young people and reducing crime through working with communities. However, one scheme cannot be looked at in isolation. The reduction in funding of youth services threatens any good work that is undertaken through the programme. Holistic efforts to tackle crime require visible and viable youth support services with reliable funding.

If I may, I will highlight the work of a Shetland charity that I believe fits with the ethos of cashback for communities. Dogs Against Drugs works in two ways. Trained dog handlers work with drug detection dogs to seize illegal drugs and associated cash and prevent them from entering Shetland. At the same time, the charity works with local schools to deliver education that is aimed at preventing drug use. This year so far, it has reached 1,800 pupils. It also works with the moving on project, which supports vulnerable young people. In 2022, the charity seized almost £30,000 in drugs cash as proceeds of crime. To date this year, it has seized £14,000.

Despite the charity’s work with young people, it was unable to apply for funding from cashback for communities in this phase due to the programme’s criteria. Earlier this year, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs met me to discuss the charity—I again thank her for her time.

I stress the importance of the work that Dogs Against Drugs undertakes in Shetland in disrupting the illegal drug supply chain and delivering crucial awareness-raising courses in schools. It seems reasonable that, as the charity seizes cash from the illegal drugs trade, it should receive some funding back for its work.

I understand that the current phase of cashback for communities runs until March 2026. I ask that, when the Scottish Government is determining possible future criteria for the programme, consideration is given to how organisations such as Dogs Against Drugs might meet any new conditions.

We move to the open debate. We are tight for time. I call Christine Grahame, who has up to four minutes.


Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

Frequently, we become so accustomed to the innovative policies that the Parliament has introduced that we forget to reflect on—and, in some circumstances, to celebrate—the impact that they have had on people for the better. Examples include the ban on smoking in public places, no prescription charges in Scotland and, of course, cashback for communities. Although the public will be aware of the smoking ban and free prescriptions, I am sure that most of the public are unaware of cashback for communities, mainly because it does not affect them overtly. However, it has an impact on their communities and on the quality of life not only of those communities but of the many individuals who benefit from the programmes.

I welcome the debate and Labour’s amendment. I suggest to Russell Findlay, who made a very interesting contribution, that he should put forward solutions, if he can, to better the recovery of proceeds. We all want to see that, although I appreciate the cross-border and international aspects that my colleague Keith Brown raised.

Cashback for communities is 15 years old. In that time, it has distributed £150 million to good causes. Many of the recipients are in my Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale constituency. I was reminded of that recently when I was visiting the YMCA hub in Penicuik at the inauguration of RUTS. That is an unfortunate name—it stands for the Rural & Urban Training Scheme. The project is run in partnership with the YMCA. For 2023-26, RUTS has the target of carrying out 400 activities for young people.

In the Scottish Borders, between 2008 and 2021, a total of over £2 million was distributed, which covered more than 100,000 activities. In Midlothian in the same period, over £1.5 million was distributed for more than 46,000 activities. That is not money to be dismissed.

I go back to RUTS at the YMCA in Penicuik. The grand facilities there, which had become underused and were in financial difficulties as a consequence, have been rescued, and in the right way. I saw the boxing ring, and I had a go with the gloves on a punch bag. I will not disclose whose image I mentally projected on to it—although I will do so if I get the right donation for the YMCA.

I went on to look at the motorbikes. Young people aged 14 to 24 can learn about motorbike maintenance there, and there are other projects that they can engage with to give them some sense of direction.

Young people may self-refer there or be recommended by social work or schools, for example. Most of the young people at RUTS are, for a range of reasons, disengaged from the so-called “traditional routes” through education and so on. The project builds self-confidence and a sense of personal achievement, which can lead to apprenticeships, work or further education. Most important, it is centred on the individual.

In the Borders, Tweeddale Youth Action and TD1 Youth Hub are both recipients of funds. In Gorebridge, the guides, and in Galashiels, the Boys Brigade receive funding support.

There are many more projects, from large to modest. The purpose is always to help young people not to get back on track, but to find a track towards a fulfilling and positive life that suits them, whether by diverting them from prosecution or—we hope—intervening far earlier. It is about helping them to help themselves before that becomes out of reach. What better application could there be for the proceeds of criminal activity?


Meghan Gallacher (Central Scotland) (Con)

One of the many interesting aspects of our role as MSPs is learning about incentives that bring cash back to our local communities. I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate on a subject that I do not usually give voice to in the Parliament, which is how Governments reinvest dirty money that is obtained through organised crime.

I am not the only MSP in the chamber who wants the Scottish Government to get tougher on organised crime. We have already heard from our “Crimewatch” champion, Russell Findlay, who, since his election, has made sure that tackling crime is at the forefront of discussions in the chamber.

The cashback for communities scheme has the potential to do a lot of good for young people across Scotland. The £130 million that has been reinvested as a result of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 is not to be scoffed at, and I know that that money goes directly to young people who are at risk of turning to a life of crime.

Prevention is key when trying to protect young people from a life of crime, and I will always support incentives that are youth led and are targeted in areas where crime rates are higher. It is my understanding that the latest round of funding is for projects that aim to deliver a range of trauma-informed and person-centred services, including those for young people who are more likely to be involved in antisocial behaviour. Given the rise in antisocial behaviour in our town centres and high streets, I am sure that business owners and those who are concerned about such behaviour will be reassured that funding is being used to reduce the problem that many of us experience just now in our communities.

However, money is not just being directed at those types of incentives. The moving forward+ project, which is delivered by the National Autistic Society Scotland’s prospects team, is funded by the cashback for communities scheme. The project supports disadvantaged autistic young people on a path to becoming more engaged and happier citizens, and it reduces the chances of them becoming either the victims or the perpetrators of crime by recognising that each autistic young person has individual needs and aspirations. The project has two routes—one for children aged 10 to 15 who are not engaged with school education, and another for autistic young adults aged 16 to 25 who are not in training, employment or education. The support involves helping individuals to better understand their autism, explore their strengths and develop suitable strategies to help them to become more resilient. It is a wonderful project that benefits so many young people. I have a statistic here: since 2020, the project has supported more than 93 young autistic people.

As I said, the cashback for communities scheme has the potential to do a lot of good, but we should recognise that it is not perfect. I hope that the Government will realise that more can be done to increase the amount of cash that goes back to our communities. Crime should pay, and what better message to send to communities than that the Government backs them? As it stands, the money that has been recovered as a result of the 2002 act does not match the wealth that has been accumulated by criminals in Scotland. For example, as has been pointed out, it was reported in 2022 that £11 million of dirty money had not been paid back—that is £11 million that could be invested directly back into our communities—although I appreciate that that is subject to a review.

The Government must think about how it can recoup as much money as possible from organised crime. As Russell Findlay said, the scheme needs to be audited in order to maximise the amount of money that could be reinstated back into our communities.

Time is tight, so I will conclude. Prevention, which I mentioned earlier, is key, and investment is needed to ensure that effective programmes are rolled out, so I call on the Government to get tougher on crime and to ensure that prevention is at the heart of cashback for communities.


Evelyn Tweed (Stirling) (SNP)

Scotland has committed to getting it right for every child and to creating an equal society in which every child and young person in Scotland can reach their full potential. To create an equal society, we must provide equal access to opportunity. Funding from cashback for communities allows organisations to remove barriers to access and to strengthen communities. We have heard from the minister about the £130 million that has been spent through the scheme since its inception, which has supported about 1.3 million young people.

I will provide a local example from my constituency to highlight the huge difference that even a small proportion of those funds can make at local level. Barry Hughes has told me about the impact that cashback for communities funding has for Raploch scouts. That scout group, as well as others in Stirling, including in Braehead, received cashback for communities funding through Scouts Scotland. Barry started Raploch scouts in 2019. At the beginning he had only eight beavers, but the group has been so successful that he now has more than 60.

Scouts and similar groups give so much to young people and their communities. Research has found that young people who are involved in scouting learn more skills, volunteer more often and contribute to our having a kinder and more cohesive society. Children who are in poverty face damaging stigma that erodes their confidence and their mental health, and those who live in areas of deprivation face barriers to accessing activities that could build their confidence and life skills.

Cashback for communities funding has allowed Raploch scouts to remove barriers for many who otherwise would struggle to participate, especially during the current cost of living crisis. The uniform alone is quite expensive—it is £21 for a scout shirt—but, using cashback for communities funds, Raploch scouts has provided uniforms for all its members. Many scout groups ask for parents and care givers to pay up front for a term of meetings, to book activities in advance and to purchase materials. However, Barry told me that the £35 a term quickly adds up, especially when families have two or three children attending. Funds from cashback for communities have provided a pot of money to be used for up-front bookings and to allow Raploch scouts to operate on a pay-as-you-go basis. That small change has made a massive difference.

The money has also allowed Raploch scouts to fund camping trips. It has already taken two trips this year to Invertrossachs by Loch Venachar, which is a beautiful area in my constituency. For many of the group’s members, those are the only trips away that they will get this year. The young people have gained so much from that: without the funding, many would not be able to enjoy those opportunities or to participate at all. Investment in such experiences for young people is also preventative spend for our justice system.

Scouts Scotland is only one of the many partners of cashback for communities that are making real and positive changes in my constituency. With nearly £2 million having been spent across Stirling since 2008, reinvestment of the proceeds of crime is having a transformational impact and is strengthening local communities. It is a real force for good.

I echo the minister’s commendation and look forward to seeing what the future will bring for the initiative.


Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Cashback for communities has reinvested the proceeds of crime in our communities, thereby supporting more than 1 million young people, including many in Mid Scotland and Fife. In Burntisland, the Shell Twilight initiative, along with Scottish Sports Futures, has delivered weekly indoor physical activity sessions alongside wellbeing and mental health advice and speakers. Scottish Sports Futures has also supported young people from Stirling and Fife on residential trips to Auchengillan Outdoor Centre, which for many of them has been their first time away from home. Barnardo’s has provided the eight-week “Fit to work” employability programme, which has helped to build confidence and to support participants in securing qualifications and work placements.

As others have said, cashback for communities has been running for 15 years, with the most recent phase having received more than 150 applications, although only 29 organisations will benefit from the round of grants. Clearly, there is huge demand for Government support, especially in the current circumstances.

Although the programme for government commits to continuing to reinvest money through cashback for communities, does that have to mean more of the same, or is this an opportunity to evaluate and expand the process, and to look at how well it is delivering its aims? Of course, we welcome the hard work of the partner organisations, but that does not mean that there is no room for improvement. It is welcome that some organisations are new to the current phase, including Starcatchers Productions, which will work with Fife Gingerbread to deliver creative play opportunities for families through the cashback for young parents programme.

However, many of the funded organisations are national bodies, some of which are receiving significant proportions of the available finance. We need to be confident that the funding is delivering an impact locally in communities across the whole of Scotland, and that there is not the unintended consequence of bids from more specialised local organisations missing out. Perhaps the key to that is to increase the overall funding, but I am also interested to find out more about how the programme is being evaluated and how it could be improved.

Although there are employment and early intervention programmes—I recognise the need for those—there should be greater prioritisation of diversionary schemes and activities to engage those who are most at risk of offending.

For a number of years, Kingdom Offroad Motorcycle Club has been working to reduce illegal and antisocial motorcycling in Fife communities, including through the club’s “Through the Gears” youth initiative, which is targeted at those who are furthest from mainstream education and are most at risk of committing antisocial behaviour. Fife Council recently agreed funding for the project, which has been unable to attract money from the cashback for communities programme fund this year. I have worked with Kingdom Offroad for a number of years and have seen how its activity has grown and how it can have a meaningful impact.

On a recent visit, during which I even got on an offroad bike—I will not tell more of that story—we discussed how the proceeds of crime, other than cash, can be used to benefit such programmes. For example, could we consider systematic ways to ensure that bikes that are confiscated by the police can be utilised by organisations such as Kingdom Offroad, rather than being auctioned or destroyed?

Although the cashback for communities programme is said to be unique to Scotland, there are similar schemes elsewhere. Merseyside Police has a community cashback fund that is used to prevent crime and antisocial behaviour, and offers diversion from criminal gangs. Essex Police works with a local community foundation to provide grants to charities and voluntary organisations. Since 1998, the North Wales Police and Community Trust has supported initiatives across the region that improve people’s quality of life by reducing crime and fear of crime, using cash that has been seized from criminals and recycled for the public good. Therefore, there are opportunities to share knowledge and good practice across the UK, so I encourage the minister to engage in such discussions.


Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests. I am an ambassador for Ocean Youth Trust Scotland.

I am pleased to speak in the debate because I believe that the Parliament should be very proud of the cashback for communities programme. Now in its 15th year, the programme is unique to Scotland and demonstrates the Scottish Government’s commitment to supporting our young people to live full and healthy lives and to addressing some of the underlying causes of crime.

As the motion says, the cashback for communities programme invests money that is recovered through the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in positive activity that supports young people’s wellbeing and helps to build their confidence and skills.

Since its inception, the programme has committed £130 million to support around 1.3 million young people across Scotland, including in my Greenock and Inverclyde constituency. The cashback for communities programme delivers many things for young people, including diversionary activities and community-led opportunities.

I want to touch on two projects in particular in my Greenock and Inverclyde constituency: the Greenock Morton Community Trust and Ocean Youth Trust Scotland. I thank Beatrice Wishart for her comments on OYT Scotland. I am hugely proud of both organisations and the outstanding work that they do. They engage with a wide range of young people, including those requiring diversionary activities, carers, and younger people and younger children who are getting active—to name just three examples. Inverclyde is extremely fortunate to have both those organisations, which enrich my community. I have sponsored events for them both in the Parliament in order that more people realise what they do, and their excellence remains high.

As the cashback for communities programme has shown, diversionary work does actually help to reduce antisocial behaviour by focusing on prevention, early intervention and improving the life chances of young people. Sadly, children and young people from deprived backgrounds are at greater risk of being involved in antisocial behaviour. However, that does not preclude such behaviour occurring in affluent neighbourhoods or the involvement of children and young people from more privileged backgrounds. That highlights the flexibility of the approach of the cashback for communities programme.

However, especially in areas of deprivation, it is important that projects that are funded by the programme focus on delivering a range of trauma-informed and person-centred services and activities. That demonstrates why the programme is so valuable, in providing our vulnerable and disadvantaged young people with access to opportunities to help them to achieve their potential. Many of the activities are things that those young people would never before have dreamed of doing. Those opportunities are sometimes not afforded elsewhere, either.

That is where OYT Scotland, in particular, excels. It supports young people from across Scotland to take part in life-changing residential voyages, with the aims of helping them to develop new skills and moving them on to positive destinations. As I touched on earlier, the OYT has been in Parliament before. In 2018, the event was about celebrating its on course with cashback programme, which involved cashback for communities groups embarking on sailing voyages, including pupils from Inverclyde academy and young people from Port Glasgow’s i youth zone. It was a pleasure and a privilege to invite the charity, its partners and some of the young people who have been involved in the programmes to the Scottish Parliament to showcase the wonderful work of OYT Scotland.

OYT Scotland has been a cashback for communities partner for three phases of funding . I am delighted that, from 2023-2026, it will receive £475,000 for its on board with cashback project, which expects to work with 248 young people over that period.

I could go on, but I know that time is short and that I am about to close. The cashback for communities programme certainly helps to change lives for many people across the country.


Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

I welcome the motion and share its commendation of the cashback for communities programme. Over its 15-year history, it has developed to become more sensitive to the needs of young people, families and communities across Scotland, including those in the north-east. It acknowledges that there are not two watertight compartments of people—criminals and victims. Injustices, inequalities and experiences of trauma impact on individuals in ways that can leave them harmed, harming or often both. It recognises that crime of all kinds has the most devastating effects on the most marginalised communities, on people living in poverty and in areas of multiple deprivation, and it realises that intergenerational trauma and adverse childhood experiences have a huge impact on who is most vulnerable to the behaviours and situations that we commonly describe as crime.

Some of the most inspiring projects are those that share the creative arts to build young people’s confidence, imagination, communication and other skills. They include cashback for change, which is delivered by YDance in Angus and Dundee, and the move forward project that is delivered by Station House Media Unit—or SHMU—in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, which develops skills in radio, film and music.

Other activities support young people to develop skills that may help them find employment, including projects such as Barnardo’s fit for work, which operates in Aberdeen and Dundee and now also in Moray. Although many of those projects focus on those who are at risk of being brought into the criminal justice system, others address the needs of those who are already caught within its structures. That means supporting young people who have been incarcerated and helping them to build their wellbeing and develop essential skills in preparation for their release. The passport cashback project, working in Polmont, has helped young people with readiness for their lives after incarceration. The keeping families together project, delivered by the Cyrenians in Montrose, helps young people in secure care to rebuild relationships and return to their family homes.

Although much of the work is delivered by large, well-known partners, it is equally important that the fund also supports smaller grass-roots initiatives. I was pleased to see that the youth work fund redistributed through YouthLink Scotland has benefited local providers including the Kirrie youth project, RockSolid Dundee and Aberdeen Foyer, as well as enabling the give us a break partnership pilot project in Dundee. I hope that that local aspect can be expanded in the years to come, especially in supporting projects that are led or co-produced by young people themselves.

Cashback for communities is an encouraging example of what Scotland can do well within our devolved powers, but it is not a complete answer to the deep-rooted problems that it tackles. It works, as it should, with individual young people, their families and communities. However, that work needs to be complemented by policies that address the structural causes of adverse childhood experiences and intergenerational trauma—causes that include child poverty, inequality, and service and resource shortfalls. It also needs to be underpinned by robust and enforceable children’s rights, as well as continued reform of a criminal justice system that too often punishes young people for their economic and social situations.

Finally, I note that the funding source of cashback for communities sanctions certain kinds of crime but does nothing to redress some of the most damaging harms: environmental, corporate and institutional injustices that destroy health, happiness and hope. I commend the programme, but I urge us to look further and deeper to a shared future where, as well as giving back to communities, we can better protect them all, including the young people, in the first place.


Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

I thank Siobhian Brown—who is no relation—for bringing the motion to the chamber for debate. I commend the work of cashback for communities, which uses money collected from the proceeds of crime to fund projects to support young people. The motion rightly recognises the positive work of the organisation, as have many of the speeches in the debate, but I will address the underlying rationale behind the creation of cashback for communities. It is one of a raft of Scottish Government measures that take a preventative approach to crime by seeking to address its root causes—in this case, issues such as social isolation, loneliness and peer pressure among young people.

That point is particularly pertinent given the scenes of irresponsible firework use that we saw across Scotland over the past week. I urge all members, when we address such incidents, to think about not only the rules and regulations on the sale of fireworks—many of which lie with Westminster—but the underlying social factors that cause such behaviour in the first place. I do not disagree with some of the points that Maggie Chapman made, but the greater harms that she talked about have to be addressed in the context of the austerity years that we are going through.

Cashback for communities has spent £130 million supporting around 1.3 million young people across Scotland since its creation, 15 years ago—not least in my constituency, where the funding has supported organisations such as Play Alloa and Lornshill academy’s school of football. It has also worked closely with local groups such as Connect Alloa and Ochil Youths Community Improvement to deliver homelessness awareness projects, art sessions, sessions on alcohol and drugs awareness and anti-vandalism projects over that 15-year period. Last year, I opened one of cashback for communities’ outreach events at Hawkhill Community Association in Alloa, which was an opportunity to celebrate what the programme offers our young people: an opportunity to come together and learn from each other in a young person-led environment.

Of course, as the chief officer of Clackmannanshire Third Sector Interface, Anthea Coulter, often states, Clackmannanshire could always benefit from further support from the programme to address local challenges that arise, as could Dunblane and Bridge of Allan. I know that she would welcome the opportunity to meet the minister along with me to discuss our local context. I will write to the minister about that.

It would be wrong to highlight the success that cashback for communities has had in achieving its dual goals of financial investment in our communities and preventing crime before it happens without highlighting the significant challenges that both of those goals face. I refer again to the 14 years of Westminster austerity, which has changed our communities beyond all recognition. I suggest that that austerity has been a significant contributor to the loneliness, isolation and peer pressure among young people, despite the immense work of the organisations that cashback for communities supports, which work hard to support our charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups as they support our young people. Although cashback for communities has made a significant difference to our society—not least in my constituency—much of that hard work, from the viewpoint of financial investment and of addressing the root causes of crime, is under threat by the unwanted Westminster austerity that is being forced on Scotland.

I am grateful to Katy Clark for agreeing to write to the UK Government with me on this point. The scope of cashback for communities could be substantially expanded, as could its effect on families and communities in Scotland if Westminster were to follow the same approach by bringing back some of the proceeds of crime to help communities, including those in Scotland that are affected by, for example, the drug trade coming through road and rail routes from England and the rest of the UK to Scotland.

Notwithstanding that point, I agree that there should be a review and that people should satisfy themselves that the right criteria are being used for the awards. I am well aware that there is limited scope for ministers to direct the awards, but there is no harm in having a review.

I support the motion in the name of Siobhian Brown.


Roz McCall (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I add my support for the cashback for communities programme and for the Scottish Conservative amendment. I commend the scheme and recognise that, since 2008, it has managed to reinvest in community projects up to £130 million of the money that has been obtained through the proceeds of crime legislation.

I also want to highlight that, in the most recent round of cashback funding, which was in March, it was pledged that £20 million would be invested in projects that support young people into employment. I note that that funding aims to deliver a range of trauma-informed and person-centric services, with the cashback for communities website stating that services and activities will be delivered for young people who are at risk of being involved in antisocial behaviour and young people who have been impacted by adverse childhood experiences, for young people’s health, including their mental health, and to support communities that have been affected by crime.

My colleague Meghan Gallacher highlighted the moving forward+ programme, which is delivered by the National Autistic Society, but it is worth repeating that that programme supports disadvantaged autistic young people on the path to becoming more engaged citizens, which, in turn, reduces their chances of becoming victims or perpetrators of crime.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I applaud the focus of the most recent round of funding, and I will be very interested in any information on the outcomes of phase 6 of the programme.

I ask members to imagine what could be done if the full amount of confiscation orders was collected and if we could remove more dirty money from organised crime gangs. According to the latest data from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, more than £1.5 million-worth of confiscation orders are currently in arrears. Of the £19 million-worth of orders that have been imposed over the past five years, £14 million has been paid off, which leaves a staggering £5 million outstanding and uncollected. In 2022, it was reported that more than £11 million of dirty money had not been paid back. When we consider the good that such money could do and the fact that it has been obtained through criminal processes, it is imperative that we ensure that the orders that are imposed are paid in full.

It is also necessary that the confiscation orders are robust and fitting, given the amount that was earned from the crime committed. I was shocked to hear of a case in which a person, after selling fake luxury items such as watches, sunglasses, clothing and aftershave totalling more than £1 million, was requested to repay only £31,000. That is utterly ridiculous. I was also shocked to hear that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service had “no issue” with reducing the amount to be repaid after an appeal. Unfortunately, that narrative makes a mockery of the system and only perpetuates a soft-touch approach to people who break the law and swindle people out of their hard-earned money, and it seems to underscore the message that crime does pay, when it should not.

Surely it would be sensible to review the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 so that we can look to recover more cash from organised crime gangs and cunning petty swindlers. Too many times, organised crime makes substantial sums, but authorities are unable to recover those ill-gotten gains or they simply do not have the resources to fulfil the task. More powers should be afforded so that our justice system can go after the criminal gangs, apply appropriate penalties and force payment in full.

I will always stand up for trauma-experienced children and young people, and if there is a way in which we can redistribute funds to actively support positive change in the lives of our young people and help them to thrive and go on to achieve their potential, it will have my full support. Let us review the 2002 act, update the serious organised crime strategy and properly fund the programme to put cash back into our communities.


Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

It is right that consensus has been found in the chamber today, in so far as it has been recognised that the cashback for communities programme has been beneficial to our communities and that it must be continued in years to come to allow that impact to be felt and seen in our communities.

The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which was delivered by a Labour Government, paved the way for the introduction of initiatives such as the cashback for communities programme, and it is heartening to hear from members about the impacts that it has had. Those funds are aimed at delivering positive futures for our young people, which is a legacy of a Labour Government. It is appropriate that the scheme continues to deliver for young people and seeks to ensure positive destinations for young people.

However, it is important that we note the role of restorative justice in the debate. Although the funds that have been collected are reinvested in initiatives that tackle antisocial behaviour, sporting activities and other positive programmes that we have heard about, it should be highlighted that access to restorative justice practices can prevent crime and antisocial behaviour as well as reducing reoffending. I hope that the Scottish Government will support Labour’s amendment at decision time, because it makes an important addition to a motion that rightly recognises the success of the programme.

Communities tell us of their fear that young people turn to crime if investment, opportunity and activity are lacking. I am sure that many members who are in the chamber have discussed that worry with parents, carers and the wider community. I have attended countless community councils and surgeries with local councillors where that issue has been brought to my attention.

The programme has had success and, as other members have said, we should dig deeper into it, because anything additional that we could do with the fund would be helpful. We need further investment in our communities in order to act on the real and serious concerns of those in our communities in the south of Scotland and beyond.

In preparing for the debate, like others, I noted several initiatives in my region that provide support to locally established groups such as the scouts and the girl guides, helping with digital work, badges and general sport and culture activities. Those things can seem small, but, as other members have said, those resources are scarce for some families. Those trips, away days and activities can be very impactful. For our small Ayrshire communities, which can be isolated, those small steps can be a big help in encouraging young people to participate in groups and clubs and engaging with the wider community.

We are all aware that communities, particularly rural and isolated communities, talk about the lack of activities and facilities for young people in villages and how that is linked to antisocial behaviour. Strengthening already existing groups in those communities can be helpful. Members across the chamber mentioned such community groups, and perhaps we could look at how they could be supported. I am sure that the minister would be able to comment on that. I note with interest that organisations such as Aberlour have received some of the funding. Those groups work at grass-roots level and will receive funds in phase 6, which I am pleased about.

There is local interest in supporting our young people and preventing crime. The benefits of the programme are clear, but it needs to be matched with strong funding for local services to ensure that our communities work for those who are most at risk of being caught up in the criminal justice system, which others have mentioned.

More needs to be done on organised crime. People involved in organised crime can take millions of pounds in cash and assets, and we need to ensure that that cash can be seized and moved. Other members have spoken clearly about that.

I need to ask you to conclude.

To conclude, I support this reinvestment in our communities.


Marie McNair (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)

Over the past 15 years, the cashback for communities programme has played a crucial role in the lives of countless young people and communities across Scotland. I welcome the fact that, over the next three years, phase 6 of the programme is expected to reach around 34,000 young people. In East Dunbartonshire, which part of my constituency is in, more than £1 million has been spent on more than 40,000 activities from 2008 until now. In West Dunbartonshire, approximately £2.5 million has been spent on 44,000 activities.

One of the organisations that received funding was Includem, which is a Scottish charity that works with young people and families. In 2020, it was granted cashback funding for a three-year project to provide an early intervention service in West Dunbartonshire for children and young people who were felt to be at risk of offending. A recent report by Matter of Focus discussed its findings after three years. Some of the figures that were reported by the young people speak for themselves. The report said that 91 per cent of children and young people moving on from the project reported increased confidence, 94 per cent said that they felt more resilient and 89 per cent felt that they had maintained or improved their attendance in school.

That is valuable in helping us to understand the impact, but to add to that, here is a rather powerful statement from a police representative from year 1 of the programme. They stated:

“The majority of young people who have been referred are no longer coming to my attention for negative things. That is where the pattern of behaviour that they were displaying previously, in my professional experience, would have suggested the risk of escalation.”

As an MSP covering part of West Dunbartonshire, I know that fire setting continues to be an on-going issue.

The issue was brought to the attention of Includem, and to tackle it the charity set up meetings between young people, their Includem worker and the fire service. The young people gained a new understanding of the potential seriousness of fire raising, the consequences of their actions and what that could mean for their future. The workers observed that those involved in the work appeared to stop fire setting, which is hugely significant and very welcome.

The impact of cashback extends well beyond the individuals that it supports; it extends to their families, too. Evidence from the project in West Dunbartonshire has helped parents and carers to be in a better place for supporting children in their care. However, it does not stop there; it also extends to the wider community. One of the most compelling aspects of cashback is that it allows communities to get involved in the change that they want to see. Includem’s fire-setting project was a key example of responding to something that local residents were concerned about. For the families of young people who have been involved in fire raising, that will contribute to reduced pressure and worry, and, overall, it contributes to a safer community in West Dunbartonshire. That is just one case study among the vast amount of positive work that is being done, but it illustrates the success of the programme.

The Scottish Government’s cashback programme shows the power of effective governance, and it understands the importance of investing in our vulnerable young people. It underlines the Scottish Government's commitment to support young people to live full, healthy lives and to address some of the underlying causes of crime. Young people are the future of our country, so cashback is not only an investment in our local community but an investment in our future.


Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

I welcome this debate. It is some time since the Parliament discussed the cashback for communities programme.

It is important to start off with Russell Findlay’s amendment, because the source of the cashback is money that is recouped from criminals. We are doing something useful with that for communities.

An observation that I will make is that we used to get an almost annual report from the former Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, but it has been some time since we had such a report. Those reports used to talk about what the SCDEA had captured, but since it was amalgamated into the Gartcosh campus, the visibility of that capture has almost disappeared. I make a plea to ministers that we should ask Police Scotland to think about producing those reports again. I have no idea how successful Police Scotland has been in that regard—it was much clearer five or six years ago.

I agree with all members that the cashback for communities programme is a brilliant concept. It was introduced by a Labour Government, as Carol Mochan pointed out, and has been continued by the current Scottish Government, and it is unique to Scotland. We should all be proud of returning money gained through criminal activity back to communities through targeted investment for the purpose of preventing antisocial behaviour. Doing so supports wellbeing, builds confidence and skills for young people and helps with restorative justice programmes, which we all agree have been beneficial to communities. Marie McNair addressed how important those can be.

I agree with Claire Baker that perhaps it is time to refocus on where the money is going and to evaluate that. Some of the figures that I will quote, as others have done, sound like a lot of investment, but I am not really sure what the work is achieving overall. I know that it is achieving a lot, but it is really important to get some evaluation of that.

We know that the programme has provided 2.5 million activities for people since its inception and that 75 per cent of young people involved in those are from the most deprived communities. In my Glasgow region, there have been more than a quarter of a million activities since 2008 and, in 2022 to 2023 alone, £1.5 million has been provided for 4,500 activities. The programme brings invaluable opportunities and part of its aim is to bring benefits to children and young people, their families and communities. However, although the programme’s positive impact is undeniable, it should be evaluated.

With phase 6 of the programme under way—it will continue to March 2026—we must ensure that the greatest amount of revenue from criminal activity that is seized is reinvested. The minister said in her opening statement that we will not see the details of phase 5 until the end of the year. I wonder whether we should have had this debate after we had had the chance to see that information. Perhaps there can be a focus on that when it is available.

We need a justice system that ensures the prevention of crime and better outcomes for those at risk of involvement and that addresses criminal behaviour. With that in mind, I stress the need for making sure that some of the money goes into youth offending services.

The Dick Stewart service, which works across Scotland, has had its funding threatened recently. Even though it has a tremendous record of supporting young male offenders leaving prison and has received top marks from the Care Inspectorate, we might see its closure. That is one example of where investment might need to be broadened to ensure that we do not lose existing services.

The Venture Trust, which is a new grant recipient for phase 6, is a prime example of the work in which we should be investing. Last year, 47 per cent of the trust’s 688 participants were involved in the Scottish justice system. Its living wild programme supports men and women on community payback, while its inspiring young futures programme supports young people struggling with unemployment who are involved in antisocial behaviour among other offences.

Through activities that aim to build aspiration and self-confidence, develop employability skills and improve health and wellbeing, a quarter of the participants have reported at least one positive outcome in their life. Whether the outcome is an educational achievement, getting voluntary or work experience, referral to another service, or even something more personal such as gaining access to their own children, our ultimate aim is to reduce their risk of antisocial and criminal behaviour. For young women, in particular, strong relationships, self-confidence and financial security are all key to avoiding taking part in antisocial and criminal behaviour.

Also receiving funds this year is Strengthening Communities for Race Equality Scotland, which works with ethnic minority young people aged from 11 to 24. A significant number of its activities centre on reducing antisocial and criminal behaviour. One activity has seen around 450 young people working with Police Scotland to establish trust between communities and law enforcement.

In my concluding 30 seconds, I highlight that, when Roz McCall was speaking earlier, it struck me that a review of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2020 might be in order. Some of the quoted figures lead to questions. I understand that what cannot be proved is a matter of evidence, but we should not be complacent about such an important piece of legislation. We must ensure that prosecutors have the necessary tools in law to get the maximum amount from people who break the law and to ensure that the return on it relates to the amount of money that was stolen in the first place.


Sharon Dowey (South Scotland) (Con)

Today’s debate has been interesting and worth while. This Parliament does not spend enough time debating the justice system or how to tackle the crime that is rife in so many communities, so I welcome any opportunity that we get to focus on those important issues.

Today’s motion raises the positives of the cashback for communities scheme. I would like to use this opportunity to discuss some issues with the scheme and the wider justice system, which have also been highlighted in some of the contributions that we have heard today.

We agree with the motion. The Scottish Conservatives want to thank all those involved in the cashback for communities scheme for their commitment and hard work. It is a successful programme that delivers benefits for many young people and families across the country, as we have heard in many of the speeches this afternoon.

We firmly believe that the money that criminals gain by inflicting pain on communities and on vulnerable people should be reinvested into communities, so that it can finally do some good. We welcome the fact that £130 million has been reinvested from the proceeds of crime so far, and we believe that the vast majority of that funding has gone towards great projects and causes that help those communities that are most affected by crime.

However, while we all support the principle behind the scheme, we would do communities a disservice if we did not look at improving it, and it is clear that the scheme could be stronger. We would support a review of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002—as Roz McCall mentioned—so that more dirty money can be recovered from organised crime gangs. The law needs more teeth in order to go after illegally obtained money, in particular given that nearly £5 million that has been ordered to be confiscated over the past five years is still outstanding.

Keith Brown

Given what Sharon Dowey has said about trying to increase the amount of money that is taken in from the proceeds of crime, would she be willing to write, along with me and Katy Clark, to the UK Government to say that, for crimes that are perpetrated down south but have an impact in Scotland, it could usefully introduce the same cashback for communities initiative? That would raise money for communities in Scotland. Would she support such a letter?

Sharon Dowey

Mr Brown and Ms Clark have been in the justice section for a lot longer than I have, so I would want to see more detail on that. At present, all the moneys from the proceeds of crime in Scotland do come back to Scotland, so I would want to look at the matter in more detail first.

Organised crime gangs have managed to hold on to a great deal of the money that they have accumulated while committing crimes. They exploit loopholes in the system and hide money effectively. Most of us could point to examples in our communities of where a crime gang continues to control major businesses, even after the police have got convictions.

Experts on crime, especially front-line officers, can point out large homes and expensive properties that are owned by individuals who have clear connections to organised crime. We believe that Scotland’s police force needs more resources so that it can target operations at the worst gangsters who reap the rewards of their offences. Front-line officers want to go after those criminals but, as things stand, they simply do not have the funding and support from the Government to do so.

The Scottish National Party’s planned cuts to Police Scotland will undoubtedly make the situation worse. It is unacceptable for the Government to come to the chamber today and speak about the benefits of organised crime while not mentioning police cuts.

Will the member take an intervention?

Sharon Dowey

I will make some more progress, because I want to get through a lot of contributions from members.

Crime gangs have already been emboldened by weaknesses in the SNP’s justice system, which so often puts the rights of criminals before those of victims. If the SNP continues with its plans to cut more of police budgets, criminals will get away with even more, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 will recoup less money, the cashback for communities programme will not be as successful as it has been, and more young vulnerable people will be preyed on by criminals. It is a vicious circle that the SNP Government can prevent. Our police force needs investment.

To go even further, this Government needs to give organised crime the attention that it deserves. At present, the Government spends too much time and resources on its own political priorities and not enough on the issues that really matter to working people, such as how we stop the damage that is caused to communities by drug dealers and criminals, and how we prevent disgusting attacks on emergency workers such as those that we saw this week in Edinburgh. Officers have made it clear that, although those attacks were carried out by young people, police believe that they were encouraged by adults with a violent history.

The Government talks the talk on organised crime. The foreword to its most recent “Serious Organised Crime Strategy” says:

“Organised crime remains a serious threat to us all and we pay for it every day, either directly as victims or indirectly by paying for the services—such as police, prosecution, the health services—that are required to respond to it.”

We, in the Scottish Conservatives, could not agree more, but the SNP does not back up those words with action. Its weak approach to justice lets criminals away with crimes.

I will touch on some of the contributions from members. Russell Findlay highlighted the case of a single drug dealer who made nearly the same amount as the entire 15-year spend on cashback for communities. I reiterate that we need to look at the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to see how we can get more money from the people who are committing those crimes.

Roz McCall also touched on that. Meghan Gallacher spoke about how the National Autistic Society’s moving forward+ project is helping people to get on a path and making them more resilient.

Katy Clark mentioned the need for greater clarity on the matrix for evaluating the scheme. It is unclear how organisations are chosen for the scheme, and we all want better outcomes for young people. I agree with Katy Clark that more support and clarity on how the scheme is measured would be welcome.

There have been lots of good contributions from other members, but I am afraid that I am going to run out of time to mention them all.

Finally, although we do not always agree on the Government’s overall approach to justice, I thank the minister for bringing forward the debate, so that we can look at how to improve the system. I hope that she will keep an open mind about improvements. If we want the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to continue taking money from criminals and we want the cashback for communities programme to continue to help good local projects, the justice system must be tougher.


Siobhian Brown

I thank everyone who has taken part in today’s debate and shared their positive experiences of the cashback for communities programme’s 15 years of benefiting young people, families and communities. As I said at the start, the programme is unique to Scotland and demonstrates innovation, partnership and the importance of why we must invest in our young people.

We should acknowledge that most young people are not involved in antisocial behaviour or the justice system. However, we should also recognise that, sadly, some young people do not get the opportunities for the good start in life that we want them to have. The cashback programme helps to address their inequality by making high-value early interventions to provide a wide range of support activities and opportunities for children and young people, all of whom should be given the same chances to thrive.

I will address quite a few of the comments that have come up; there is quite a bit to cover. On Russell Findlay’s contribution, I think that every person across the chamber wants to see an increase in the crime funds that go into initiatives such as cashback. I do not think that anyone would disagree with that.

The 2002 act provides for criminal confiscation and civil recovery of the financial benefit that is derived from criminal activity, but it also contains the principal money laundering legislation for the UK, which is a reserved matter. The 2002 act is a complex mix of reserved and devolved matters, and we will not be able to resolve that today. The Scottish Government has responsibility for leading on legislative matters in relation to proceeds of crime, but this is a complex area of reserved and devolved competences. We will continue to monitor the need to strengthen the legislation to further detect, defer and disrupt organised crime, so that we can increase the criminal funds that go into initiatives such as cashback.

I go back to Russell Findlay’s question about serious organised crime. Disrupting organised crime and diverting individuals from organised crime remains a priority for the Scottish Government. A refreshed serious organised crime strategy was published in February 2022. Although the aims and objectives remain broadly the same, the options for change have focused on strengthening links between intelligence and tasking, making better use of data and supporting efforts to improve collaboration across all sectors, in order to combat the constantly evolving challenges that serious crime organisations pose. The serious organised crime task force progress report is due to be published later this month.

I move to Katy Clark’s contribution. Carol Mochan also brought up restorative justice. We remain committed to having restorative justice services available throughout Scotland. The needs and voices of harmed persons must be central to the process, and services must be safe, consistent, evidence led, trauma informed and of a high standard.

Obviously, the pandemic slowed progress. Initial development work identified the complexities, which we need to explore further. We are committed to taking the time to resolve the issues and develop a safe and robust system, and work is under way with partners across the justice system to do that.

Katy Clark asked about the criteria for phase 6. There were four main aims—diversion away from antisocial behaviour; provision for positive activity; support for wellbeing; and building confidence and skills. I know that there was an exceptionally high number of applicants, with 157 bids seeking more than £80 million in funding. Those bids were subject to a robust panel assessment process and, in the end, only 29 partner organisations were successful.

On evaluation, which I think that Claire Baker, Pauline McNeill and Katy Clark raised, as I said in my opening speech, the full evaluation of phase 5 is due this year, and it will be for members to look at that.

May I be so bold as to ask the minister to make her own personal evaluation of the RUTS programme at Penicuik YMCA, which I referred to?

Siobhian Brown

I would be happy to.

The cashback for communities programme also provides opportunities for young people who have engaged with the justice system to develop the skills that they need to make a more positive life choice and turn their lives around. In 2018, the Scottish Government’s justice analytical services published an evidence-based report on understanding childhood adversity resilience and crime that cited building resilience in children and young people, their families and communities as being crucial to reducing crime and victimisation. Direct feedback from cashback participants has shown that one-to-one support and guidance from trusted and experienced mentors and staff who work in cashback projects is highly valued. Young people have told us that that approach has helped them to make better life choices that have changed their lives and changed all their relationships.

The targeted approach that cashback projects take to improve outcomes for young people who have experienced poverty and disadvantage has endured the test of time. The programme has contributed to supporting and growing the evidence base on resilience and protective interventions. The programme continues to support young people to develop prosocial behaviour and good social skills; be positive about the future; develop good self-esteem; develop positive engagement with learning and with school; improve and develop positive connections with their peers; be involved with positive organisations, activities and sport; build positive attachments; and recognise role models.

It has been a truly remarkable 15 years of progress. Since 2008, the programme has supported more than 1.3 million young people in Scotland, and no one could have foreseen the intense challenges of the pandemic and how that would interrupt our young people’s lives. Despite all that, the phase 5 cashback partners were able to overcome the multiple challenges to continue to support young people during some really dark days. I commend and thank them for that and for their continued dedication to supporting the young people in their projects.

Since the programme started 15 years ago, it has gone from strength to strength. Phase 6 has a stronger evidence-based focus on providing targeted support and helping to address underlying causes of antisocial behaviour and crime. The evidence continues to show the correlation between areas of deprivation, adverse childhood experiences, unhappy experiences of school and poor mental health and to show that they are reasons why children and young people may fail to reach their full potential. Our learnings from phase 5 show that poor mental health among children and young people has been exacerbated by the pandemic and that demand for support through the cashback programmes has increased.

Our cashback partners have taken steps to ensure that they have the trauma-informed workforce that is needed to deal with the often extremely complex needs of the young people whom they seek to support. That is why phase 6 has a stronger focus on helping participants to improve their health, mental health and wellbeing and is why phase 6 offers provision of trauma-informed and person-centred support for children, young people and their families.

Cross-cutting policies are needed to identify and support children and their families who are at risk of early adversity at the earliest stage possible, and I look forward to seeing how we can better make such connections. The programme directly supports one of the First Minister’s key missions, which is tackling poverty and protecting people from harm. Young people and their families who live and have grown up in poverty are the main target group for cashback projects. Phase 6 projects are also asked to identify families who might need further support and link them with local support services, such as those for assessment for social security benefits, free school meals, school clothing grants or food banks.

Our vision for justice remains to deliver a just, safe and resilient Scotland, and it commits to working with our partners to ensure that people—especially those from deprived communities—are less likely to be victims of crime. That involves community-based project work with young people to prevent harmful behaviour.

Earlier this week, we published a three-year delivery plan that sets out the key areas of work in the justice sector, aligned to the aims that are set out in the vision for justice, which includes the work on cashback that I have talked about today.

I hope that members will join me in congratulating all the phase 5 partners whose work is reflected in the 2022-23 impact report.

That concludes the debate on cashback for communities.