The number of community service orders dished out by courts in Edinburgh has doubled in the last two years, with crooks carrying out almost 84,000 hours of unpaid work last year alone – the equivalent of nine and a half years.
But official figures revealed almost half of all payback orders – handed out as an alternative to prison – are never completed, landing many offenders back in court if they fail to explain themselves.
Edinburgh City Council has spent more than £7 million in the last three years carrying out and supervising the orders, but a spokeswoman today insisted the majority of the cost – which is pumped into staffing and tools – would be covered by a government justice grant.
Figures obtained by the News through a Freedom of Information request show 839 unpaid work orders were handed out by city courts in 2014, compared to just 420 two years earlier.
Of these, only 481 of the payback orders dished out last year were fulfilled – with 202 falling through because of a direct breach of the order by the offender.
A council spokeswoman said those that failed to provide an adequate reason for not completing their unpaid work would find themselves back in court.
A total of 83,798 hours of unpaid work were completed over the course of the financial year 2013/14 – providing a saving to the council of £544,687 if all offenders had been paid the national minimum wage of £6.50.
Councillor Cammy Day, the city’s community safety leader, said cash spent by the council enforcing orders went towards providing work tools and employing staff to supervise offenders.
He said: “I personally think that we should be using more of these orders. People need to pay back to communities when they have committed crimes, and I know communities think the same thing. People think that those who commit crimes in an area should be made to pay back to the community.
“My understanding is that those who do not fulfil their payback order need to provide an explanation. It’s not taken lightly, because the punishment is taken up by the court.”
Community payback orders were introduced in 2011 and act as an alternative to prison. The orders frequently include a requirement to carry out hours of unpaid work in the community.
In Edinburgh, offenders have been enlisted to help restore gravestones and unwanted bicycles – and even help construct a BMX track.
The refurbishment of the Museum of Edinburgh’s listed courtyard and garden was also carried out using the orders.