A desire to roll up his sleeves and tackle crime locally is what drew Simon Harding back to local government to take on the role of assistant director, community safety, at Lambeth LBC.
After five years working as a regional crime adviser for the Government Office for London, he was ready to go back to the front line. 'This role gave me a great strategic overview, but it was very distanced and slightly abstract from the real world. That is why I wanted to come back and work with the challenges of Lambeth,' he says.
Some of the well-documented challenges for Mr Harding include tackling drug dealing, particularly in
Brixton, and gun crime.
Mr Harding, who has lived in the borough for 18 years, says: 'Lambeth is a hugely dynamic place to work, it has great communities and a lot of successful partnership work has been done here. Over the past two years it has achieved significant crime reduction - but there is a perception lag.'
As assistant director, Mr Harding is responsible for almost 50 staff covering traditional crime and community safety, drugs and alcohol, crime analysis and project teams looking at gun crime and drug intervention.
'People are constantly amazed at the remit of what comes under community safety. It covers everything from environment to education to elderly people and hate crime.'
The job of community safety officer developed as a result of the 1998 Crime & Disorder Act which made community safety and crime reduction a statutory function of local authorities. There is a key focus on partnership working with the police and other agencies.
Mr Harding says: 'There are now thousands of community safety officers across the country. It has gone from being a very small one-man-and-his-dog operation to a very important central function and one which draws a lot of funding from the Home Office.
'When I started my first job in community safety at Hackney in 1996,
I started off without a desk. Things have really moved on and the whole agenda has developed - it's now a national priority.
'But the idea of making a community safety manager an assistant director is quite new, there is only maybe three or four of us in the country that have this title.'
The buzz of working close to the front line is one of the best parts of the role, he says. 'Working with a range of people and seeing the evidence of what you are doing on the ground is why I came out of central government. It misses that vital ingredient of people and partnership working that is dynamic and makes a difference to people's lives.'
Of his biggest challenge he says: 'Driving through inertia can be difficult and convincing people that things can make a difference. Also, the constant hard work of partnership working, particularly with different
cultures and organisations, can be hard going but it's very rewarding.'
There are varied career backgrounds for officers wanting to move into community safety. 'I manage staff from a wide variety of areas from youth workers and drug workers to social workers, it adds to the diversity of the team.
'To advance you need to develop people skills and partnership working. Officers need to cover a large number of agendas from policy and research to communications, regeneration and housing, and develop skills in report writing and presentation.'