A NEW national body is to be established to give ministers independent assurance that work with offenders in the community is succeeding in reducing re-offending.

It is being set up as part of a shake-up of Scotland's community justice system, which will also see the Scottish Government develop a national strategy aimed at cutting the number of criminals who go on to commit further offences.

The Scottish Government spends £100 million a year on community sentences - alternatives to prison such as the community payback order - for offenders. It believes the new national body will give the community justice system the leadership to continue to make progress in tackling crime.

This new organisation will also have the ability to commission services nation-ally, which could help those working in the sector make the best use of public funds.

The changes will also see responsibility for the planning and delivery of community justice services taken from Scotland's eight community justice author-ities (CJAs), which bring together organisations to work with offenders in a bid to reduce re-offending.

This will be transferred to the country's 32 community planning partnerships (CPPs), which involve public bodies, the voluntary sector and the private sector working together.

This change should allow social workers who deal with offenders to maintain their links with colleagues in local councils, while developing stronger links with those working in health, housing and welfare, according to the Scottish Government.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said the system would have "at its heart stronger collaborative work-ing at a local level to better support offenders and address the root causes of their offending".

It comes after the Scottish Government last year laun-ched a consultation on new ways to manage offenders in the community in a bid to cut the £3 billion re-offending costs the public purse.

Public spending watchdog Audit Scotland had highlighted earlier the "mismatch" between what was being done to try to reduce re-offending and what was effective.