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LGA CONF: NEW GUIDE TO HELP CRACK DOWN ON ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR (JACK STRAW'S FULL SPEECH)

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A blueprint to help councils and police forces make best use of ...
A blueprint to help councils and police forces make best use of

powers to tackle the scourge of nuisance neighbours and other

anti-social elements in the community was published today.

During a speech to the Local Government Association (LGA) conference

in Bournemouth, home secretary Jack Straw launched a booklet, which

gives guidance to agencies on how to draw up local agreements for

making Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) applications to the courts.

Mr Straw said:

'Loutish and aggressive public behaviour, running on an undercurrent

of drugs, alcohol or violence, can, if left unchecked, blight whole

neighbourhoods. ASBOs are designed to deal with those persistent

low-level offenders who make the lives of some people in our

communities a misery.

'The new guidance makes clear that ASBOs should be used swiftly where

circumstances demand it, not just against the very hard cases of

unacceptable behaviour. It will provide a clear framework for

well-structured local partnerships to tackle anti-social behaviour.

'I hope and expect this will help those communities run ragged by the

anti-social behaviour of a minority. They deserve it.'

Introduced in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, the Orders allow local

authorities and police to deal effectively with people who

persistently cause harassment and distress to others. The legislation

enables either the council or police to apply to a magistrates' court

for a prohibitive Order to protect individual victims, families or

entire communities from behaviour which has made their lives a

misery.

The Orders can prohibit a person from, for example, visiting a

particular street or premises, or from committing or encouraging acts

which would perpetuate the harassment of others in one form or

another.

In the 14 months since they came into effect, more than 80 ASBOs have

been imposed by the courts in England and Wales.

In order to encourage greater use of the Order, the home office and

the LGA, in consultation with other agencies with a leading interest

in ASBOs, have produced the new guidance booklet. It sets out the

areas of policy and practice which all partner agencies should

consider including in their own protocols to ensure ASBO applications

are made on a clear and co-ordinated basis.

Jeremy Beecham, chairman of the Local Government Association, said:

'Decent, law-abiding citizens are entitled to be protected from

aggressive and unruly behaviour and this is what this joint protocol

aims to achieve.

'Working together with the public and the police, councils should be

prepared to make the best use of the new procedures to look after the

vast majority of people in our communities who want to live their

lives in peace and with security.'

Frank Whiteley, spokesman for the Association of Chief Police

Officers (ACPO) and assistant chief constable of Northamptonshire

Police, said:

'Anti-Social Behaviour Orders are an important tool in helping to

tackle protracted loutish behaviour which can blight people's lives.

The national guidance booklet will help to further promote their use.

ASBOs are one of a number of tools that need to be actively used by

the police and their local authority partners if long-term

anti-social behaviour problems are to be tackled effectively.'

In his conference speech, Mr Straw touched on a number of other key

areas of home office policy, where co-operation between central and

local government is regarded as essential to success. He highlighted

measures being taken to tackle the effects of both crime and the fear

of crime, and the need for local authorities to share the burden of

providing support and services for those seeking asylum in the UK.

The home secretary also offered reassurances to delegates about the

impact on local government of the new Human Rights Act.

The guidance booklet is launched on the same day as a new home office

research paper looking into the policing of anti-social behaviour is

published. The study examines the work of nine police forces which

have developed initiatives explicitly focused on anti-social

behaviour. Conducted between November 1997 and April 1998 (before

the ASBO powers came into force), the research categorises a range of

responses to the problem and sets out a number of lessons that all

forces can draw from the fieldwork.

NOTES

1. The Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) was introduced in the

Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and came into force in April 1999. It is

a community-based civil order akin to an injunction. It can be

applied for by the police or local authority against anyone who is at

least 10 years old. The minimum duration for an order is two years.

The orders are preventative and intended to be used to put an end to

persistent and serious anti-social behaviour. Breach of an order is

a criminal offence with a maximum penalty on indictment of five years in prison.

2. The National ASBO Protocol was drawn up by an action group

appointed in November 1999 by the home secretary and headed by Lord

Warner to consider how to spread best practice in the use of ASBOs.

3. Policing Anti-Social Behaviour, Police Research Series Paper 123,

will be available on the home office website at www.homeoffice.gov.uk

Background Note

The Anti-Social Behaviour order was implemented on 1 April 1999. The

following police forces have informed us that ASBOs are in force in

their area. The list is not exhaustive.

Avon and Somerset Thames Valley

Cambridgeshire West Mercia

Cleveland West Midlands

Cumbria West Yorkshire

Derbyshire

Devon and Cornwall

Greater Manchester

Hampshire

Hertfordshire

Lancashire

Leicestershire

Metropolitan

Merseyside

Norfolk

North Yorkshire

Northumbria

Nottinghamshire

South Yorkshire

Suffolk

Sussex

HOME SECRETARY'S SPEECH

LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE

WEDNESDAY, 28 June 200

This is an important time for local authorities. From Best Value to the imminent impact of the Human Rights Act, there are tough, new challenges ahead.

2.The future - the theme of this conference - looks lively to say the least.

3.I want to ensure, and I know you do too, that people receive first class public services. I pay tribute to your commitment to that goal, and to the importance of local government in our democracy and in our society.

4.The exact balance between what is decided nationally and what is determined locally is always going to be a matter of debate, argument, and change: that is true in all systems of government, including those with written constitutions and layered, federated government. In a large, diverse country like ours, wherever the precise line is drawn, vibrant, self-confident local government, representing the different interests of different communities is vital: tension of some kind between these two levels of government is not only inevitable, but can often be productive. What we should each seek of the other is a fruitful partnership, and one in which we each keep the other on its toes.

5.The nature of the partnership will also vary from service to service : we wholly reject the idea that one size fits all. In education, for example, the rôle of the local authority is changing as the focus is much more on the performance of each school, and the local education authority's actions in driving up performance.

6.In the area of crime and disorder, however, it is fair to say that we have devolved considerable power and responsibility onto local authorities, and have drawn a clearer distinction between that and the duties of central government.

7.I have literally lost count of the number of local councillors, and police officers, who have told me that the Crime and Disorder Act is the single most important piece of criminal justice legislation they have seen for decades. The reason for the welcome is this. It had been obvious that the police alone were neither responsible for crime levels in their area; nor could they alone deal with these crime levels. Whilst it is criminals who cause crime, there is a range of decisions taken way outside the police service which can and do have a significant impact both on whether crime is prevented, or whether it is detected. The physical layout of areas, road schemes, the design of buildings, the care available, or lack of it, for those who are mentally ill and could pose a danger to others, licensing decisions, whether schools are orderly or not, how they deal with truants, down to the intensity of street lighting all impact on the behaviour in our communities, and so, self-evidently, do housing allocation policies; and over these decisions, it is local authorities - and health authorities - who have the influence and the power.

8.So the case for involving local authorities directly in the fight against crime and disorder made overwhelming sense: the way the responsibilities on you are structured is one which recognises that the expertise and the judgements about the scale of the problems, and what needs to be done, lies principally with you, and not with central government. There are now 376 local Crime and Disorder partnerships in England and Wales.

9.We are backing your efforts locally with a national Crime Reduction Strategy, which we published last November.

10.There are three key elements to this: targets, resources, and outcomes.

11.Nationally, we have now agreed with chief officers and police authorities targets to secure a reduction in vehicle crime of 30% over five years, of 25% in domestic burglary, and in five of our principal Metropolitan areas, robbery by 14%. The exact force by force target varies. But many Crime and Disorder partnerships are setting additional targets, and I applaud them and you for doing so. Used sensibly, targets really can help to raise performance, and lead to clarity about priorities.

12.On resources, we are now just into the second year of the biggest ever crime reduction programme;£400 million over three years. £150 million of this is being used for CCTV, not just in urban centres, but in residential and rural areas, as well as car parks and railway stations. Much of the remaining£250 million is there for use on 500 anti-burglary projects covering two million households in the areas where burglary is highest, and other targeted policing initiatives to focus on specific crime problems in specific areas such as racist crime. We are also tackling the causes of crime with our£31 million On Track programme to direct young children away from crime and£12 million to improve school attendance to reduce offending by young people.

13.Preventing offending by children and young people is now the statutory aim of the youth justice system which we are radically reforming. Following a number of successful pilots, from 1 June courts now have a range of new orders which make young offenders and their parents face up to the consequences of their crimes and make reparation to their victims and their communities at large. The Youth Justice Board provides the national lead in implementing these reforms in partnership with the 154 local Youth Offending Teams which have been set up across the country.

14.Through the crime-fighting fund we are providing money to enable police forces to recruit 5,000 officers over and above the number they had otherwise planned to recruit over the next two years. This should ensure that police numbers which have fallen for seven years should now begin to rise, back to their level in 1997.

15.And I announced on 15 June an extra£20 million for five police forces in metropolitan areas to fight robbery, and an extra£15 million for 14 forces in rural areas.

16.Then there is the focus on outcomes.

17.You need to know, and so do we, what works, and what does not. One of the lessons which we have all learnt in the field of education, for example, is that otherwise similar schools, with similar resources and similar teachers can produce remarkably different outcomes with the 'same' pupils. That lesson can be repeated across the public services. In the past, however, in the criminal justice field we have lacked the published data for you, and the public, properly to judge performance. We began to change this with the publication late last year of data on the performance of each police 'basic command unit' (BCU). That was a start. But whilst some BCU's are coterminous with district council boundaries others are not: and in a large diverse BCU with say three different kinds of community, performance in one area can be obscured by the average across the BCU. So in July we shall be publishing data for the first time on crime levels at a partnership, and district council level; and also putting the districts into groups - statistical 'families' - so that as near as possible like can be compared with like. I hope this information is of real use.

18.An indication of the range of performance on crime can be seen in the last published crime figures - and will be seen again when the latest figures are published in mid-July. The average for the period September 1998 - September 1999, published earlier this year was up by about 2%. July's figures, for March 1999 - March 2000 will show a similar rise. I am glad to tell you that nonetheless crime is still at a lower level than it was in April 1997, but we have to strive hard to get on top of the long term trend in crime. It is the story behind the averages which can guide us in that task. Domestic burglary is down 24% since the Election - why? - not least because we and you have been targeting this. Vehicle crime is also down, albeit by less, for similar reasons. Reports of racial and domestic violence are both up. That is a sign of success, not failure. It is a tribute to the more sensitive treatment of victims of these crimes by the police, social services and other agencies that is encouraging them to come forward. However, there are wide variations between the crime figures in different force areas. For example in the last published crime statistics, crime fell in 24 force areas including Lancashire, Cheshire, Durham, Humberside, Avon and Somerset and Kent. But it rose in the other 19 including West Midlands, Bedfordshire, Thames Valley, London and Sussex.

Anti-social behaviour

19.However, one key problem which is not properly highlighted by the recorded crime statistics is that of serious anti-social behaviour. Loutish, anti-social behaviour has many forms, some serious, some less so. The dropping of litter or a child spitting can be an aggravating nuisance, but a racist neighbour who harasses and threatens an Asian family next door can destroy their peace of mind and quality of life. Yet the cumulative effect undermines the social bonds that make communities tick. It restricts innocent people's freedoms to live their lives as they wish and, in doing so, creates the breeding ground for more serious criminal behaviour. The concept in our legal system of individual crimes, and the methods of our criminal justice system, have been inadequate at tackling the serious problem, of persistent 'lower level' crime which can make a misery of people's lives, a misery often reinforced by the paltry penalties handled out against the perpetrators.

20.To overcome this serious defect in our traditional criminal justice system, in the Crime and Disorder Act we developed the Anti-Social Behaviour Order. This is a powerful weapon to help make your communities safe. It is a testament of our confidence in local government that it is not only the police who can apply for an ASBO, but local district councils as well.

21.ASBOs are designed to deal with behaviour that makes the lives of some people in our communities a misery. They require only a civil standard of proof to enable the courts to make an order, giving due warning that the behaviour must stop. If it does not stop, serious penalties will follow.

22.In the 14 months since they came into effect, more than 80 ASBOs have been obtained by the police or local authorities in England and Wales and I am pleased that many more are in the pipeline.

23.This is a solid start. Yet with the notable exception of some local authority areas in England, the number of ASBOs has been rising only gradually.

24.I know that success in tackling anti-social behaviour is not to be measured simply by the number of ASBOs issued. But experience in many areas shows clearly that a readiness to use them does pay dividends.

25.As Gerard Murden, Head of Neighbourhood Services in Liverpool, told me recently: 'For anyone who had any doubts, ASBOs have proven conclusively to be very effective in tackling the nuisance element in our damaged communities.' He adds that all but two of the nine ASBOs served in Liverpool have remained intact, and of the two that were breached, custodial sentences were given. And Chief Inspector Royston Smith of Derbyshire who initiated the first police-led application for an ASBO in Derbyshire has said: 'The experience leads me to believe that ASBOs will become an important tool for the community safety partnerships to use in order to reduce crime and disorder. We should not underestimate the deterrent effect of the new powers on the behaviour of others, and their potential to help develop safer communities'.

26.So in November 1999 I appointed Lord Warner as head of an action group to consider how to spread best practice in their use.

27.The ASBO Action Group drew up a model protocol for considering and applying for ASBOs and held a series of seminars to discuss their practical application. I would like now to thank the LGA for sharing the administrative load of organising the seminars, and those local authorities which hosted them and fielded speakers.

28.The next step is to launch a National ASBO Protocol. I am delighted to be able to do this today.

29.It will provide a clear framework for well-structured local partnerships to tackle anti-social behaviour.

30.It should not be regarded as an off-the-shelf model that each local authority can use unchanged. Local needs will vary, and the National Protocol's primary aim is to give guidance and to stimulate thought.

31.I very much hope that the launch of this additional guidance today will help you in your efforts to tackle anti-social behavior.

Asylum

32.Let me turn now to another major area of partnership between the Home Office and local government - asylum.

33.Local authorities shoulder a major responsibility in providing support and services for those seeking asylum in the UK.

34.But the government has recognised for some time that the system is not working as we would wish.

35.At a national level, our asylum system is being undermined by a large increase in migrants seeking entry for purely economic reasons.

36.Meanwhile, under the ad hoc system which was a consequence of the 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act, local authorities, especially those in London and the South East, have had to bear a disproportionate share of the burden of supporting asylum seekers while they await decisions on their applications or appeals.

37.Reducing the numbers of unfounded asylum applications, and modernising the system of support to those awaiting decisions, was one aim of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Our goal overall is to make the system fairer, faster and firmer.

38.So the Act provides, among other things, for a streamlined appeals system, a national asylum support system and extra enforcement provisions.

39.The number of decisions made on asylum applications by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate is rising rapidly. It made over 11,000 decisions in March, about four times the number being made monthly in 1999. Decisions made are now well in excess of intake, and the backlog is continuing to fall - down 14,000 already from its peak before Christmas.

40.We remain committed to achieving most initial asylum decisions within two months and most appeals within four months from April 2001. We have already achieved this for families with children.

41.This progress will in time reduce the pressure on local authorities.

42.More immediately and more directly though, you are affected by the new support arrangements.

43.The launch of the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) on 3 April saw the introduction of the voucher scheme to replace cash benefits.

44.It also saw the start of the programme to disperse asylum seekers around the country. This is essential if we are to spread the burden of support fairly, as well as to take advantage of lower accommodation costs outside London and the South East.

45.NASS has made a good start. So far it has dealt with 2,827 applications, from which a total of 1,876 asylum seekers (including dependants) have so far been dispersed to NASS accommodation.

46.As is usual with new arrangements there have been teething problems. We are working with voluntary organisations to set up new and improve existing support facilities for asylum seekers in areas to which they are being sent.

47.But the most serious problem in the dispersal programme remains availability of local authority accommodation.

48.I fear that so far we have been disappointed by the response from the majority of local authorities to our request for offers.

49.By the end of May we had concluded just one local authority contract for the provision of accommodation for use by the National Asylum Support Service - and that was with a Scottish local authority.

50.I am assured that the LGA remains committed to co-operating with us on the whole issue, so I hope actions will follow words. The full roll-out of the new asylum support scheme - and a reduction in the overall numbers of asylum seekers - can only be achieved if councils come forward with accommodation.

51.Conversely, as long as the government fails to get the local authority accommodation it needs and for which funds are available, we will have no option but to use private landlords - perhaps on your patch, perhaps on somebody else's.

52.This country has a proud tradition of offering shelter to victims of persecution abroad. Supporting asylum seekers is a national responsibility. I look forward to continuing to work with you to reform our asylum system.

Human Rights Act

53.Finally let me turn to the Human Rights Act.

54.The Human Rights Act is an important change in the way we handle rights. And local public services have a key part in making that change work. The new duty to respect the human rights laid down in the European Convention should be at the centre of your concept of public service.

55.The Human Rights Act says that all public authorities must pay proper attention to people's rights when they are making decisions about them.

56.Bells should ring if you are talking about applying council power in a way that intrudes on people's private lives, homes and health, or that represses the expression of their beliefs or strongly held views.

57.You also need to be sensitive to any quasi-judicial proceeding you may be involved in. A refusal to grant a license for a taxi or market, for example, could raise issues relating to proper procedures, as recognised in the Convention judgements.

58.But the Act seeks to achieve a proper balance of rights and responsibilities between the citizen, his and her fellow citizen and the state.

59.This is important, because the Act recognises that rights can be limited. There are times when public authorities have to balance an individual's rights with the rights of others, or of society as a whole.

60.So don't run for cover every time someone finds a point about the Convention to throw at you. Lawyers do not always agree. You are under no obligation unthinkingly to follow legal advice if it does not appear to make sense to you. And common sense, plus old fashioned British ideas of fairness and rights and responsibilities, lies behind both the convention and its application by the Court in Strasbourg - to which we have been subject for 51 years. If someone challenges a practice or procedure on convention grounds think whether this practice occurs in any of the other Member State of the Council of Europe, most of which have lived comfortably for years with the Convention in their own domestic law. If the Convention point seems unreasonable or oppressive, then say that you will see its advocate in court. Do not forget that whenever new rights are set down at law in the United Kingdom there are always stories about what will happen. There was with the Race Relations Act, the Equal Pay Act, with other Sex Discrimination measures: yet no one would now say that we should put the clock back.

61.Just because someone can show that a Convention right is involved, that doesn't mean a violation is taking place. Most rights have limitations, or are balanced against other rights. And as long as your decisions show awareness of the Convention rights and methodology, the courts are unlikely to give unnecessary trouble.

62.So it's important that local government prepares for the Human Rights Act. I know that a lot of good work is going on already, and the LGA deserves credit for spearheading this.

63.The LGA was one of the first to produce guidance on the Act. It has done important work in organising training all over the country. And it has been very active in forging a partnership with central government to help local authorities prepare.

64.All of you working in local government should embrace your role in this. Historically, local government has been at the heart of British civic society, and I want to see that role continue in the implementation of the Human Rights Act.

Conclusion

65.The breadth of the issues I've touched on today is a reflection of the range of responsibilities local authorities have.

66. I do recognise the difficulties that balancing all of your responsibilities can present. And I do know that local conditions vary a lot.

67.But those kind of pressures aren't going to go away - in fact they will intensify. The pace of change in the future will speed up.

68.And central government will continue to take action to drive up local government's performance as public expectations of service rise.

69.I'm confident that local government is up to the task. I look forward to greater partnership in the future.

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