Lack of demand worry for Scottish secure units

Scotland’s secure units are struggling to cover their costs because of a lack of demand for places.

A working group is due to meet at the end of this month to examine the issue of over-capacity at the seven units, which have 130 places between them and are run by councils or charities.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “We recognise the resource implications for secure units operating with spare capacity. We continue to work closely and imaginatively with providers and local authorities to help ensure this valuable resource continues to be used.”

Children who are highly vulnerable or who have offended are referred to the units by children’s panels or courts, with places funded by councils.

A spokesperson for local authority body Cosla said: “We are working with the Scottish government and providers to deal with the implications of the over-supply.”

In February, the government convened a meeting with unit heads and council representatives to discuss excess capacity. According to the minutes, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, it was agreed “secure units are going to have to shrink whatever happens and (they) are already looking at closing units imminently”.

A quarter of beds across St Philip’s in Airdrie, St Mary’s Kenmure, East Dunbartonshire, and Good Shepherd, Bishopton, all in the west of Scotland, were vacant at the time.

Rossie in Angus was in a “similar position” with only 16 to 18 out of 24 beds full at any one time. “It was also carrying a budget deficit of around £500,000,” the minutes stated. The Kibble unit, Paisley, had 78% occupancy at the time.

In April, St Mary’s, which has 30 secure beds, closed following a riot, which would have temporarily eased capacity issues across the sector, but it reopened last month.

Shortly after the meeting in February, the Scottish government announced plans to allow young offenders who turn 16 to remain in secure care rather than be transferred to young offender institutions, which should help capacity problems.

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