Tuesday, 4 January 2011

A new approach to tackling antisocial behaviour where Labour failed

Lib Dems firmly believe in protecting the rights and freedom of the individual. I think one of the key freedoms that should be protected is freedom from fear. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their neighbourhood whatever their background, but sadly not everyone does, and fear of antisocial behaviour leaves too many people fearful of stepping outside their front door and unable to enjoy life to the full.

Antisocial behaviour is not an insignificant issue:-
  • 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.
When Labour was last in power at national level home secretary after home secretary launched countless initiatives designed to tackle anti-social behaviour but despite this in places like Reading asb and fear of asb continued to be a problem. And once again it is a problem the Coalition needs to face up to and adopt a new, more person-centered approach.
Towards the end of the last government's term of office a perceived lack of public credibility on crime issues  became a political problem for Labour - so much so that Gordon Brown visited Reading just before the last election to launch...yet another initiative aimed at delivering soundbites and headlines. This came one month after a visit by then Home Secretary, Alan Johnson!
Tough talk is all very well but I believe the public deserve more than gimmicks and soundbites from politicians on issues as serious as antisocial behaviour and I am deeply committed to doing everything within my power both at a ward and Borough level to improve the quality of life of all residents. and to help them feel safer in their neighbourhood.
For me this ensuring that the Council and other agencies deals promptly and effectively with calls from the public in relation to anti-social behaviour right from the word go and regardless of whether the problem is in accomodation managed by the Council, housing association or a private individua is essentiall. If you or anyone you know in Reading has had a bad experience of this please get in touch as I am determined to help improve the service the Council provide for local residents.
Over the years I have campaigned extensively for a more joined up response to anti-social behaviour from the authorities in Reading. This is because as a councillor I have been contacted at various times by residents who have complained that they have reported issues and no action has been taken or the response they have received either from the Police or Council has been lacking. This experience has left some residents feeling helpful and desperate: this is completely unacceptable.
On the back of this I raised the specific issue of difficulty reporting anti-social behaviour  at Lib Dem Federal Conference a couple of years ago (the first time I spoke), as well as directly with Thames Valley Police and the Home Affairs Select Committee when it visited Reading in 2008.
 I also led a delegation of residents to Thames Valley Police's call centre in Kidlington so they could hear directly from residents utterly frustrated by the lack of Police response at that time (to motorbike nuisance).
So I welcomed the news today that the Coalition Government is launching a pilot programme to look at ways of improving the way anti-social behaviour is recorded and complaints from the public are handled.
The trial will take place in 8 Police authority areas.The volunteer areas will trial a new approach based on five key principles, which will be tailored to each area:
* Creating an effective call handling system where each individual has a log of complaints created from the very first call;

* introducing risk assessment tools to quickly identify the most vulnerable victims;

* installing off-the-shelf IT systems to share information on cases between agencies, removing the need for meetings;

* agreeing a protocol across all local agencies setting out how they will manage cases; and

* engaging with the community to clearly set out the issues which are causing the most harm to individuals and neighbourhoods, and setting out how the police, other local agencies and the public can work together to address them.

I will be interested to see what the outcome of the pilot is and if successful I hope it will be rolled out by Thames Valley Police in the near future.
Later this year the Government will also be announcing the results of its review of the existing tools and powers available to local authorities, such as ASBOs, and launching a consultation setting out a new way forward in how ASB is both viewed and tackled.
I think this is timely: almost 15,000 ASBOs were issued between 2000 and the end of 2007, and according to Home Office data, and more than half of all ASBOs were breached. I think it is also highly sensible that Ken Clarke is reviewing sentencing and the effectiveness of short sentences to try and reduce reoffending and the damage this does to individuals and communities. Home Office figures for 2007 show that 75 per cent. of 10 to 17-year-olds reoffended within one year of being released from custody, and the reoffending rate for a young man serving his first custodial sentence is 92 per cent.
This approach is not about doing things top down from Whitehall but is all about empowering the individual and local communities - a world away from the failed approach adopted by New Labour which saw fear of crime in places like Reading rise.

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