THE number of violent crimes in Argyll and Bute has risen at a faster rate than more than three quarters of Scotland's local authorities.

Data released by the Scottish Government reveals a 32 per cent increase in the total number of non-sexual crimes of violence recorded by police in the 12 months to March this year, compared to 2017/18.

These include homicide, causing death by dangerous driving, attempted murder, serious assault and robbery.

The region has also seen a seven per cent rise in crimes of fire-raising and vandalism between 2018 and 2019, the third highest increase of all the country's council areas.

Crimes of dishonesty, such as housebreaking, shoplifting and fraud have also increased, while sexual crimes are at the highest level in a decade with 174 recorded in 2018/19.

Helensburgh Advertiser: Recorded crimes in Argyll and Bute by typeRecorded crimes in Argyll and Bute by type

National statistics show the number of sexual crimes recorded in Scotland in 2018/19 is at the highest level since records began in 1971, while fire-raising and vandalism is at its lowest level since 1976.

READ MORE: One in three Argyll and Bute sex offenders living in Helensburgh area

The total number of crimes recorded by police in Scotland increased by one per cent from 244,504 to 246,480.

Helensburgh's MSP Jackie Baillie has called on the Scottish Government to drop plans to cut police officer numbers in the wake of the new figures.

Ms Baillie said: “Scotland is in the grip of a wave of rising crime.

“The figures are shocking. The justice secretary cannot simply dismiss these statistics.

“It is clear that cutting police numbers would only make reducing these numbers even more difficult.

“You simply cannot keep communities safe on the cheap.

“This justice secretary must give police officers the resources they need to fight crime and keep our communities safe.”

Despite the rise in violent crimes in Argyll and Bute, the total number of all crimes recorded in the area in 2018/19 is almost half the number from 2009/10.

Helensburgh Advertiser: Crimes recorded by police in Argyll and Bute; 2009/10 to 2018/19Crimes recorded by police in Argyll and Bute; 2009/10 to 2018/19

Meanwhile, the number of lesser offences recorded, including common assault, breach of the peace and driving under the influence, is at its lowest level in six years and continues to fall.

READ MORE: Man charged with assault after 'kicking woman to the head' in Helensburgh street attack

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our firm focus on prevention, responsive policing and local partnerships to help individuals and communities keep themselves safe has had a positive impact on long-term crime trends and people’s feeling of safety.

“Recorded crime across Argyll and Bute is 42 per cent lower than a decade ago, and down 27 per cent nationally over the same period – resulting in fewer victims and safer communities.

“Police officer numbers across Scotland are significantly higher than in 2007, since when they have fallen by around 19,000 in England and Wales.

“Despite the constraints on Scotland’s public services as a result of a decade of UK austerity, we are protecting the police revenue budget in real terms – delivering an additional £100 million throughout this parliament, with annual funding now more than £1.2 billion.

“Our £20 million investment in violence prevention since 2007 has helped reduce violent crime across Scotland to levels now 43 per cent lower than in 2006-07, but any rise requires us to re-double-efforts to secure the gains made over the last decade.

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“As well as continued investment in policing, in the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit and projects such as No Knives, Better Lives and Mentors in Violence Prevention, we have commissioned a major study into repeat violent victimisation.

“This research will help police, together with local and national government, to better understand the nature of repeat violence – including the role of substance misuse - and ensure we focus our efforts on those most affected by violence wherever it persists.”

West of Scotland MSP Maurice Corry said: “It is unsurprising we are seeing rises in crime throughout Scotland and in particular Argyll and Bute.

“Argyll and Bute is a geographically challenging area to police compared with other, more compact council areas.

“With lower numbers of police on our streets to deter crime occurring in the first instance, Police Scotland has become a capture to convict force, rather than a preventative force.

“At every opportunity I press the SNP Government to increase funding to allow for more officers on our streets to ensure these figures don’t continue to rise.”