CRIMINALS in East Renfrewshire have dodged thousands of hours of tough community service, thanks to a government amnesty.

Offenders are often given Community Payback Orders (CPOs) as an alternative to prison after convictions for crimes involving the likes of drugs and sexual offences.

Figures released under Freedom of Information show that 262,153 hours of unpaid work given to criminals across Scotland by the courts have been wiped out.

Of that total 2,329 hours were written off in East Renfrewshire.

CPOs would normally see crooks having to complete unpaid work such as picking up litter and removing graffiti.

In January, the Scottish Government announced it was slashing unpaid work hours in existing orders by 35% in a bid to tackle a backlog of 700,000 hours built up during the Covid pandemic.

However, the Scottish Conservatives have said this is a sign that the SNP are getting soft on criminals.

Jamie Greene, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice, said: “The sheer number of community payback hours cut is absolutely staggering.

“The Scottish Government have let criminals away lightly. This is a slap in the face to victims of crime right across East Renfrewshire.

“When the courts order a criminal to help rebuild the community they have damaged, it’s only right that those sentences are taken seriously and fulfilled.”

Councils placed under Level 4 lockdown restrictions last year were told to suspend all community service because it would be unsafe.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The justice system holds those who commit offences to account and community-based sentences have helped contribute to record low reconviction rates.

“The pandemic has been an unprecedented public health challenge. This was recognised by Parliament when, last year, it approved legislation to allow community orders to be varied where necessary, as well as regulations earlier this year to reduce unpaid work hours.”