ELLESMERE Port has benefited from a record amount of compulsory unpaid work carried out by offenders across the county.

Community Payback teams supervised by the Cheshire Probation Area provided 100,000 hours of labour, worth nearly £575,000, during 2008.

The offenders taking part have all been sentenced by the courts to do the work to pay back for their crimes.

Projects included cleaning graffiti, tidying up criminal damage, environmental clean-ups, painting and decorating community buildings and clearing church yards.

The scheme ensures that offenders work to make communities better places to live with the public having a say in what they do, and they often carry out work that would not otherwise be done.

Justice Minister David Hanson said: “Community punishments are hard work, restrict liberty, but crucially encourage rehabilitation and reduce re-offending. It is physical work for the offenders but also has tremendous benefits for the community.

“The scheme shows that when people commit offences they have to repair and put right what they have done wrong in the first place whilst giving something back to the community.

“This is a constructive form of punishment in that, in addition to doing something beneficial to the community, offenders can learn respect.

“Each work day is constructed to be just like any other employee’s work day – they have to follow instructions and work to targets and get the work done in an acceptable manner.

“In the course of doing that work, they can learn some valuable skills and gain real qualifications through the Open College Network.

“If they find a job as a result of making themselves more employable it lessens the likelihood of them re-offending.”

Cheshire Probation Area chief officer Steve Collett said: “If you take into account the opportunities for partnership working with local authorities, community safety partnerships and other agencies, it’s a fantastic win-win situation.

“It’s right that offenders pay their dues to society in a constructive, structured way like this.

“Some people feel that unpaid work is not a proper punishment but, believe you me, it is. They are supervised so closely that they have to work hard, they have to put in the hours and the effort.

“Our role is all about public protection and reducing re-offending and this is a key plank of that policy.

“Overall we have a great record in Cheshire in making it work – a phenomenal number of hours that have made real differences to local communities.”