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“We will take the comprehensive approach necessary to make sure that our sons and daughters are protected and our streets are safe,” said home secretary Amber Rudd as she launched the government’s serious violence strategy today.
For the avoidance of doubt, it is a strategy aimed at tackling violence within communities and not promoting it.
The need for the strategy in London is clear after a seemingly relentless list of harrowing headlines about stabbings over the past week. More than 50 people have been killed in the capital due to violent crime since the start of the year.
Ms Rudd conceded today that “there has been an increase in homicides, knife crime and gun crime” and said it “is a problem which we must get a grip on”.
Home Office statistics published last September said: “Police officer [sic] numbers have fallen by 22,424 (16%) since the peak in 2009, when there were 144,353 officers. Furthermore, the number of officers as at 30 September 2017 is the lowest number since comparable records began in 1996.”
At the weekend policing minister Nick Hurd admitted police forces were “stretched”.
However, writing for the Sunday Telegraph Ms Rudd said “knife crime was far greater” in 2008 when “police numbers were close to the highest we’d seen in decades”.
It is easy to argue over statistics but behind each death and victim of violent crime lies a harrowing story which has a profound impact on not just those most closely linked to the unfortunate individuals who lose their lives but the communities they live in too.
Maintaining peace and cohesion is a tricky task – not just for reduced police forces, but for councils too.
Representatives from local government will join others from the voluntary sector, the police, health, education, and businesses on a cross-party serious violence task force which, according to the strategy, will “oversee delivery of the strategy programme of work and provide a route for challenge and support on local progress in tackling serious violence”.
The sector’s involvement in this is to be welcomed, but given that there were fewer than 10 meaningful references to councils in the whole of the 111-page strategy suggests they are not exactly perceived to be pivotal in the process.
And yet the work that councils do, or can do given the chance, to create cohesive communities fits right in with what Ms Rudd hopes to achieve.
“A crucial part of our approach will be focusing on and investing more in prevention and early intervention,” she said. “We need to engage with our young people early and to provide the incentives and credible alternatives that will prevent them from being drawn into crime in the first place. This in my view is the best long-term solution.”
However, a lot of the council services that help to engage youngsters, that help to keep them safe, and that help to provide them with opportunities to succeed are being cut to the core.
The Local Government Association revealed today that funding for councils’ youth offending teams, for example, has been halved from £145m in 2010-11 to £72m in 2017-18.
Councils are also still waiting to receive their youth justice grant allocations for 2018-19. This money is used to support young people and help keep them away from crime and violence, the LGA added.
Simon Blackburn (Lab), chair of the association’s safer and stronger communities board, said: “Councils also face significant rises in demand for urgent child protection work and with a children’s services funding gap that will reach almost £2bn; councils are increasingly having to divert funding away from preventative work into services to protect children who are at immediate risk of harm.
“Only with the right funding and powers can councils continue to make a difference to people’s lives, by supporting families and young people, and helping to tackle serious violent crime in our local communities.”
Ministers must get bored of hearing councils consistently moan about a lack of funding but when budget cuts are impacting on people’s lives and causing community cohesion to creak, it is probably time for them to stop and search their conscience about the impact of austerity rather than hide behind a strategy.
By David Paine, acting news editor