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Court / ‘Poverty wages’ run public services into the ground, claims Green MSP

Lerwick Sheriff Court.

GREEN MSP Ariane Burgess has claimed that no-one should be surprised that prisoner escort provider GEOAmey is facing a recruitment crisis given the “poverty wages” it is paying its staff.

The claim has been refuted by GEOAmey, which said the company was paying hourly wages that were well above the UK minimum wage.

Entering the row over the temporary transfer of jury trials at island sheriff courts to the Scottish mainland due to these of recruitment issues, the MSP for the Highlands and Islands said there should be no place for private profit in Scotland’s criminal justice system.

It is the first time a politician whose party is in partnership with the ruling SNP has come out criticising the current set-up of prisoner escort in Scotland.

Justice secretary Angela Constance has said the government is doing all it can to resolve the crisis.

Last week, Lerwick’s sheriff Ian Cruickshank expressed concern that he had to assign an important jury trial to Peterhead rather than Lerwick.

In doing so he followed an order made by sheriff principal Derek Pyle that new island jury trials were to move to Aberdeen, Peterhead or Inverness until the GEOAmey’s recruitment crisis was resolved.

The move has since been criticised by several opposition politicians. Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said that in his view the courts were now being run for the convenience of everyone apart from the local people who depend on them.

Burgess said the GEOAmey crisis was a symptom of what was wrong with the way public services were run in Scotland.

Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands Ariane Burgess.

“The Scottish Greens have long opposed the privatisation of crucial public services such as prisoner transport and the current crisis at GEOAmey is an example of what can go wrong when public services are run for private profit,” she said.

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“Privatisation of the Scottish Prisoner Transport Service was brought in under the Labour-Liberal Democrat administration in 2003 and so I welcome Mr Carmichael’s acknowledgement of the failings of this approach.

“GEOAmey are paying poverty wages to staff to secure bumper profits for stakeholders. Little wonder they face a recruitment crisis.”

Burgess said the transfer of solemn court proceedings away from Kirkwall, Lerwick, Lochmaddy, Portree and Stornoway underlines the failure of this approach.

“It’s time we stopped dishing out huge amounts of public money to predatory companies who run our public service into the ground,” she added.

However, a spokesperson for GEOAmey said in response: “Our new pay deal for officers takes pay rates up to £12.50 per hour which is higher than the government’s national minimum wage. It is also higher than both the national living wage [£10.42] and the real living wage [£12].

“The contract to run the service in Scotland does not make a profit, and despite recent recruitment challenges, we have ensured that more than 98 per cent of people in our care and custody have arrived at their scheduled appointments on time and without incident since 2019.”

Meanwhile, isles MP Alistair Carmichael said the Greens have been willing supporters for the government for too long.

“This is desperate stuff from the Greens. If this is the problem, then they are the ones in government, [so] why are they not doing something about it?” he asked.

“The SNP has been in power for 16 years and for most of that time the Greens have been their willing supporters and are now in government with them.

“For years the SNP have met any criticism by blaming someone else. It hasn’t taken long for the Greens to learn the same habits.”

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