He told the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland's Taking Stock conference yesterday that the way to address the issues was through a combination of specific measures to deal with anti-social behaviour problems and wider programmes aimed at rebuilding and supporting communities.
'I can assure you that there is a commitment across the executive to tackle the problems caused by anti-social behaviour because it is a fundamental right that people feel safe, both in their homes and when they are out and about on their daily business.
'Communities that Care pilot schemes, funded by the executive, target families, children and young people in Edinburgh, Glasgow and South Lanarkshire. Their aim is to identify the factors which put children and young people in danger of involvement in drug misuse, crime and other forms of anti-social behaviour and then find ways of preventing this risk.'
The executive is addressing the issues with Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), Better Neighbourhood Services schemes and the creation of a Sociable Neighbourhood National Co-ordinator, whose role is to support councils and their partners to demonstrate the range of ways in which the problem of anti-social behaviour can be prevented and managed.
Activities to be introduced later this year include the introduction of measures in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 which will mean short probationary style tenancies for tenants who have been evicted from the social rented sector in the last three years. Furthermore, interim ASBOs will be introduced to give victims of anti-social behaviour more immediate protection and a Directory of Good Practice by the social neighbourhoods co-ordinator will be produced as a guide for Local Authorities and Communities Scotland.
Mr Gray continued:
'Addressing anti-social behaviour issues fits squarely within the context of justice, community safety, community regeneration and building sustainable neighbourhoods.
'There is no point in committing ourselves to warm dry homes for all if people cannot live in them in peace because of disturbance, intimidation or even violence from their neighbours.
'Legal mechanisms, including civil and criminal law, are in place to protect those affected by the perpetrators of unsociable behaviour. There are no quick fix solutions. Laws are integral to community safety but these must also be complemented by preventative housing management and other initiatives such as mediation, family support and support for young tenants.
'Community involvement is also integral to tackling unacceptable behaviour. Encouraging residents to participate in making the places where they live and work safer will help to build stronger, safer neighbourhoods. The executive takes its responsibilities seriously, but we all carry responsibility for the society and communities in which we live.'
ASBOs allow local authorities to apply for a civil order to prohibit an individual - owner occupiers and tenants - from specific behaviour which causes alarm or distress to others. The Housing (Scotland) Act only covers the public rented sector but the executive is committed to introducing interim ASBOs as soon as a suitable legislative opportunity presents itself.
Some examples of typical problems constituting anti-social behaviour and the way they have been resolved are detailed below.
Number one - resolved by relocation
Jean had multiple problems and several children under social work supervision. She turned to alcohol when she felt she couldn't cope. Jean proceeded to play Celine Dion records, very loudly, over and over at all hours of the night, which was wearisome for her neighbours. She had five children and was a single mother. One of the children had mental and physical disabilities and several others appeared to be out-with parental control. When sober Jean was a caring woman who recognised that she was a problem to her neighbours.
Jean's neighbours were tolerant over a long period of time recognising that she had a lot of problems but the constant loud music tried their patience severely and several of them complained to the local council and the police. Council staff advised Jean that she was putting her tenancy in jeopardy and the police threatened to remove her music equipment. When sober Jean agreed to keep the noise down and seek help from the social work department to manage her children and moderate her drinking but she did not stick to these commitments. Matters came to a head when 16 noise incidents occurred in a fortnight. It became clear that unless she accepted help quickly she would lose her home and children. It was recognised that the relationship with the neighbours had deteriorated to such an extent that she could no longer remain in the area, having become notorious. Council staff from housing and social work co-operated to find alternative housing adjacent to a children and family facility and intensive support for the family was given, together with life-skills training, financial advice and alcohol abuse rehabilitation. The schools also gave extra support to the children and there were periods when they went into care for short periods to give their mother a break. Jean's parenting skills improved and her drinking reduced and the children became more manageable as their behaviour improved. Jean still has problems but is better able to control them and is no longer an anti-social tenant. Anti-social behaviour can be stopped when appropriate and effective intervention is applied, thus avoiding legal action which could result in homelessness.
Number two - resolved by mediation
Mrs A and Mrs B were neighbours submitting claim andcounter claim about each other's behaviour and the behaviour of their children. The complaints made included children entering the other's garden to retrieve toys and damaging property while doing so; threatening behaviour by older children towards neighbours; unacceptable noise levels whilst children were left in the house by themselves; constant observation by the other neighbour.
The police have been called on a number of occasions leading to charges of breach of the peace against the partners of both women. Neither of these charges led to court action. When contacted, neighbours failed to substantiate any of the allegations made by either.
The majority (approx 90%) of complaints about neighbours are low level and it is often difficult to say one person is wholly to blame or indeed to see the truth of allegation and counter allegation. Often the activity complained about is only a symptom of a wider relationship breakdown or is the latest in a long string of incidents. In this case, council staff knew legal action was not the answer - blame could not be apportioned and legal action would be disproportionate and would only harden attitudes. They managed to persuade Mrs A and Mrs B that eviction or transfer was not an option and they and their families would have to continue to live next to each other. They persuaded the two that mediation was an option. An independent mediation service was able to help the two women come to an agreement (which was written down to avoid any doubt) about when and where children could play and when noise was tolerable and when it should be kept down. They were able to get the two parties to accept each other's point of view without necessarily agreeing with it. The two families now live reasonably harmoniously and the Police have not needed to visit either family since.
Diane Janes was appointed the role of sociable neighbourhood national co-ordinator in January 2001. The post emphasises the positive social aspects of strong communities. It is intended to encourage innovation and demonstrate the range of ways in which the problem of anti-social behaviour can be prevented and managed. Ms Janes is currently undertaking an audit of current policy and practice throughout Scotland and is scheduled to publish a Directory of Good Practice during Summer 2002.
'Communities That Care' projects. Blantyre/North Hamilton SIP - This project receives£17,000 towards the Communities that Care Project which is due to end in March 2002. This projects objective is a prevention programme centred on young people and issues around educational attainment, drugs, teenage pregnancy and crime.
Greater Easterhouse SIP -£4,100 in funding towards the Communities that Care project which is due to end 31 March 02 for 2000/01. The SIP provided£12,300 towards the project for 2001/02. The project aims to develop safer communities, where young people are encouraged to achieve their potential.
South Edinburgh SIP - Communities that Careproject received£20,000 in 2000/01 and will receive a further 20k in 2001/02. It is a prevention programme focusing on early intervention to build safer communities where children and young people can reach their potential. Tackling youth crime, drug abuse, pregnancy & education failure.
Edinburgh Leith project - This funded through Edinburgh City Council. It will receive£30k per year until 2004/05.