AN EXTRA £1 million has been given to Fife Council's justice social work service to help them cope with the 30-40 per cent backlog of cases still to come to court.

They'll spend most of it on new staff but, while they're expecting to have an increased workload for five years, they've only got enough money for one year.

With the lifting of COVID restrictions, courts are set to re-open fully but the number of cases that couldn't be heard due to lockdown, as well as the number of unpaid work orders that haven't been carried out by offenders, are considerable and the council said it would take time and resources to catch up.

At the community and housing services sub-committee, Councillor Neil Crooks said: "The funding is a significant issue.

"The report shows a spend of £706,000 on staff with no guarantee that next year we will have that money put in?

"So while the Scottish Government anticipated the problem, they've not anticipated the solution very well.

"I would find it difficult if I was a social worker trying to take up a post for nine months without the guarantee that after that there'll be a job for me. It's just crazy."

He continued: "I take it the conversations haven't taken place yet about confirming the additional money for the five-year period?

"Bringing a report like this, showing the amount of people being employed is great, and it looks like we're acting in the right way, but there is a big hole in this.

"What if the Scottish Government fail to come forward with a five-year funding programme, which they are notorious for?

"That's my worry. If the money is not there we're going to be in a real mess in next year's budget."

Thousands of court cases have had to be deferred and service manager Steve Hopton said the increased workload was "anticipated to last for five years so I imagine there will be additional money next year to deal with that".

He added: "It will be difficult. The bald figures the Scottish Government have sent us is a 32 per cent anticipated rise in work in the latter part of this year, moving to 39 per cent next year, so the scenario planning clearly predicts more work than there is this year without the guarantee of that funding.

"If, for any reason, they don't give additional funding, then we would be in a very difficult place."

The report to the committee said the £1 million for Fife is part of an £11m package from the Scottish Government to help justice social work services across the country deal with the backlog.

Mr Hopton said the anticipated rise in work, from around September, will have a "significant impact" and they plan to recruit eight qualified social workers, five assistants, three supervisors and three business support staff at a cost of £706,000.

A further £180,680 is ring-fenced specifically for commissioning third sector services and the remaining £146,803 will be for "any additional resources that are required to ensure ongoing delivery of services in the face of the wave of additional workload".

He said: "What we are trying to do is recruit people on nine-month contracts as we've only got 12 months of money when in fact we know there is three to four years' additional work.

"It's very difficult to get people in on short-term contracts and to renew them on a year-to-year basis so we're hoping that will be recognised and we'll be able to make the jobs more attractive.

"It will be difficult as there is a limited number of social workers and it's newly-qualified social workers we'll be attracting so there's a fair bit of training and induction involved too."

Councillors welcomed the funding from the Scottish Government but agreed to seek "urgent confirmation" about additional funding for the next three years to address the anticipated backlog.