Visitors to Falkirk town centre have been frightened and disgusted by drug deals taking place in broad daylight – and some are saying they won’t return to the town because of it, Falkirk councillors heard.
Business owners have backed up the claims, saying that the town has “an unsavoury mob” hanging about – and little is being done to stop them.
Lauren Brown, who owns Sisters Boutique in Lint Riggs, said many town centre shop owners will have a similar story.
Lauren said: “We have been in this town for 24 years and I have seen a massive decline in the sort of people that are going about.
“Drugs in Falkirk are off the scale and have been getting worse and worse for the last ten years.
“The town has a really unsavoury mob hanging round it and they are not getting moved on – they are like zombies roaming up the high street.
“Just to be clear – 99 per cent of my customers are lovely!
“But I have had incidents of people in my shop doorway out of their face and people are coming in clearly under the influence.
“I don’t put up with it and they gradually get the message that you don’t put up with it!”
Lauren is critical of Falkirk Council for not doing enough to keep the town busy.
“Part of the problem is there are too many empty shop doorways to hide in,” she believes.
She says the grounds of Trinity Church, which backs onto her shop, are often littered with needles and she had to put security fencing up around her shop to stop people injecting there.
Members of Falkirk Council’s Scrutiny Committee heard about similar problems as they looked at the effectiveness of the town’s long-running taxi marshall scheme, which costs £20,000 every year.
Peter Reid, of the council’s economic development team, told councillors that the taxi marshalls who work with partners including the police, ambulance service, Street Pastors and Safe Base are helping the town build a reputation for being safe at night.
He was in no doubt that was becoming known to event organisers and he was confident that there would be more concerts to follow such as this year’s Killers and Little Mix gigs.
But when asked what the team would do with any extra money, economic development officer Jacqui McArthur told councillors that a similar partnership was needed during the day.
She said: “We would like the opportunity to extend this initiative to tackle daytime anti-social behaviour.”
In her job, she had heard several people complaining about seeing drug deals done openly in the street.
“We can’t ignore the problem. We’re hearing it first-hand from businesses and visitors to the town,” she said.
“We know it’s putting people off coming into the town centre.”
Ms McArthur feels the partnership approach is proving its worth at night and could work equally well during the day, with a mix of trained volunteers and emergency services working together.
“We already do work together – if we could get additional funding, that would be a great support,” she said.
Bonnybridge councillor Niall Coleman questioned why the council should foot the bill for a service that was of such benefit to the police.
He said: “I’m not disputing that this is necessary but why should we be funding something that is a quasi-police service?”
Ms McArthur agreed that it would be good if the police would make a financial contribution.
But she disagreed with his suggestion that the money might be better spent employing an extra police officer.
But she added: “The key thing here is partnership and we achieve far more than one police officer alone could achieve.”
Falkirk Inspector Ewan Wilson agreed that the partnership with council, NHS and volunteers works well as they all do their best to target resources where they can be most effective.
Recently, they have brought in members of a national task force to concentrate on the town centre and, he says, whenever his own officers can be spared they will be.
No-one – the council, police or shop owners – has an easy solution to the problem, or even any answers as to why it has become such an issue.
But they know that without urgent action, the town centre will continue to decline.
Falkirk Council has made clear that revitalising the town centre is a priority and while the administration is pinning its hopes on the new council HQ and arts centre bringing people in to the town, they know that particular solution is still years away.
A working group is now looking at immediate measures as Falkirk Council heard last week.
These include improving parking, signage and developing more town centre properties.