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20 December 2015, 07:09 | Updated: 20 December 2015, 07:15
The organisation which carries out background checks on people working with children and vulnerable adults is facing "unprecedented cuts'' to its budget which could lead to criminals "slipping through the net'', the Scottish Conservatives have claimed.
Figures in the Scottish Government's budget show Disclosure Scotland is facing a funding reduction from £6.8 million in 2015/16 to £800,000 in 2016/17.
The figures, contained in the spending plans and draft budget unveiled by Finance Secretary John Swinney last week, represent a drop of around 88%.
Disclosure Scotland, an executive agency of the Scottish Government, researches the criminal records of new members of staff at schools and other public sector bodies.
The Conservatives have voiced fears the changes will lead to a reduction in checks and the scaling-down of the "vital research''.
It could lead to a situation where those barred from working with children or protected adults are employed in schools and other organisations, the party warned.
But a spokesman for the Government's Children's Minister accused the Tories of "irresponsible'' scaremongering.
Liz Smith, the Scottish Tory spokeswoman for young people, said: "This is a huge cut for an important agency which safeguards the well-being of our young people and vulnerable adults.
"Organisations and the public rely on Disclosure Scotland to find out if a potential employer has a criminal past and it serves a hugely important function.
"It's highly irresponsible of the SNP Government to cut the finances for such an important organisation and the public will quite rightly be worried.
"We would urge the Scottish Government to look at this again, we cannot afford for any criminals to slip through the net.''
But a spokesman for Children's Minister Aileen Campbell said: "This scaremongering by the Tories is totally irresponsible and misguided.
"The level of disclosure required for roles, for example working with children, is governed by statute and, as such, they are not subject to variation by the budget.
"Disclosure Scotland meets most of its costs from income received from fees, not from the Scottish Government.
"What budget the Scottish Government do provide is for accounting requirements such as depreciation, the cost of fees that are waived and support for organisations that do not have the capacity to register with Disclosure Scotland. As a result, the exact level of Scottish Government budget required varies from year to year.''