Last month I blogged about my long-running local campaign for a better response from the Police and Council in Reading to anti-social behaviour and crime reported by residents. This has long been a top priority for me as a councillor and if elected MP for Reading West I pledge to devote a lot of my time to getting action taken on anti-social behaviour.
I read on getreading today that the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson visited Dee Park in West Reading earlier this week to "discuss issues surrounding crime and anti-social behaviour" with councillors and community leaders. Although others may see this as simple electioneering (Reading West constituency is a marginal Labour seat), I think it was nonetheless a positive step by Alan Johnson to leave the cosy confines of the Home Office to come and speak to people here in Reading. The article says that Mr Johnson met community leaders and councillors as part of his visit. I hope he also found time to speak to local residents too.
I'm not sure how much Mr Johnson's visit will do for public confidence in the Labour Council or the Labour government, when it comes to anti-social behaviour, however, if that's what his visit was designed to do. The impression I get from talking to local residents right across Reading is that many people are fed up with the amount of anti-social behaviour they have to put up with in their area, and fed up with Labour's failure to tackle this problem effectively.
Local people want to see action to reduce anti-social behaviour, not words. All the evidence locally shows that local people think that tackling anti-social behaviour should be a high priority for the Council and the Police. The survey of South Reading residents carried out by Reading Borough Council last year found that residents ranked 'tackling anti-social behaviour' as the top local priority for action (after more Police and action on dog fouling).
An independent inspection of Reading Borough Council and its partners published last December highlighted the fact that fear of crime is higher than the national average. And as I reported on my ward blog last year, the continued failure of the Labour-run Council and Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership to respond to community concerns relating to anti-social behaviour resulted in the Home Office announcing it would be sending an ASB Action Team to Reading - one of only 16 places singled out for extra help from government.
This is hardly a ringing endorsement of many years of Labour rule in Reading.
I am concerned about the fact that locally many people are no longer reporting anti-social behaviour because they have no confidence that action will be taken by the authorities. A few weeks ago a Home Office leaflet 'Tackling Anti-Social Behaviour' popped through my letter box. Adverts have also appeared in the local press. The leaflet reminds people that councils and the Police have powers and duties to act to tackle anti-social behaviour. This campaign is part of an intiative led by Louise Casey which I discussed on the blog a few weeks ago and I hope it encourages people to report crimes to the Police and Council in Reading.
If crime isn't reported it's hard to get action taken. I make a point of reporting anti-social behaviour when I spot it in Reading and encouraging other residents to do so. I would encourage you to do the same: ring Thames Valley Police's (24-hour) anti-social behaviour hotline on 0845 8 505 505.
My interest in this area is now new. I have been campaigning on this issue since 2006 - in my my ward and across Reading because it is such an important issue for local residents. In 2008, I called for improvements to Labour-run Reading Borough Council's flawed "Anti-Social Behaviour Strategy". I have also campaigned for improvements to Neighbourhood Policing in Reading. You can find out more about my thoughts and campaigns for action on crime and asb over on my ward blog.
Lib Dem Shadow Home Affairs spokesperson Chris Huhne revealed in a speech he gave on anti-social behaviour in the Commons last November some depressing stats about the Labour government's record on tackling anti-social behaviour. Such as:
- In 2008-09, the Police recorded more than 3.5 million incidents of antisocial behaviour-more than 10,000 a day;
- the Home Office estimates that responding to antisocial behaviour costs the taxpayer £3.4 billion a year.
- 17 per cent. of the population believe that there is a high level of antisocial behaviour.
- In low-income areas, this figure rises to 32 per cent. when people in so-called "hard-pressed" areas are asked.
Mr Johnson promised on his visit to Reading to 'crack down on yobs'. I don't doubt his commitment to do this. However, I wonder how many other Labour Home Secretaries have also promised this since 1997 - Mr Johnson is the sixth.
Labour politicians nationally and locally have had years to reduce anti-social behaviour in Reading and many local people I speak to have understandably stopped listening to Labour's tough talk. They want to see action taken and to be listened to - and rightly so. Talking tough about anti-social behaviour won't make it go away.
So what's the alternative? I blogged last month about the Lib Dems' practical plan to cut crime. I am confident that if implemented nationally and locally Lib Dem proposals would help reduce anti-social behaviour and fear of crime in Reading.