CAT uses one of its nine lives

Councillor Jim Muirhead outside Dalkeith Police Headquarters.
Councillor Jim Muirhead outside Dalkeith Police Headquarters.

As they reinstated the Police Community Action Teams last week, councillors spoke of a rise in anti-social behaviour since they were scrapped.

The controversial council-funded extra officers for Midlothian, better known as the CAT teams, had been removed altogether at the end of the last financial year after a gradual phase out, following the SNP-led administration’s decision to stop paying Police Scotland for this extra service.

Since the Labour party took minority control of Midlothian Council in May it has looked to reinstate the CAT teams after opposing their removal, and last week councillors decided to sanction £500,000 to pay for 14 extra officers split into two teams.

At the meeting Cllr Stephen Curran (Lab)said: “Anti-social behaviour is a huge issue in Midlothian and I think its escalation is connected with the removal of the CAT teams. In my ward (Dalkeith) I have never seen such visible signs of anti-social behaviour. Bin fires, graffiti, hate crime.

“If councillors fail to support the recommendations today to reinstate the CAT teams then they are failing the people of Midlothian.

“There is no getting away from it, there is a cost implication. But I’m not sure we can put a cost on keeping residents safe and making them feel safe in their homes.”

SNP councillor Debbi McCall said: “We are against the reintroduction of the CAT teams. I’m deeply concerned about the amount of money that will be spent.

“I wonder if we are missing a trick here, I don’t know if we can throw money at the problem and hope for the best. I believe we should be expanding the problem solving partnerships for a more holistic approach.”

Her colleague Cllr Kenneth Baird added: “We have huge financial concerns but we find ourselves writing a cheque for half a million pounds for the police. We are taking money away from third party social care. If nobody is working on prevention then anti-social behaviour will just increase.

“Are we going to need to pay £1 million next year and £2m the year after? It’s only going to get worse.”

Councillor Jim Muirhead (Lab) who started a petition in 2016 against the removal of the CAT teams said: “This is certainly something that featured on most of the doorsteps during the election. It’s a major issue and something we have been arguing for for a considerable time.

“We have got a clear agreement for the next five years and we know how much it all costs for these 14 officers.”

Conservative and Labour councillors voted to reinstate the CAT teams, while the SNP councillors abstained.

The cost to the council in the current financial year to April 2018 will be £46,000 a month, rising to £557,000 a year plus a one per cent annual pay increment. If officers are removed from the county for other duties Midlothian Council would be reimbursed.