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Matthew Scott: Protecting young people in Kent from gangs

Matthew Scott is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent.

Francis’ life was transformed by gangs within just 18 months. Many of the hooks that he was drawn in by are familiar in many cases – cash and gifts, then rewards for tasks undertaken and escalation through more serious acts of crime and then violence.

And why did he turn to the gang? Isolation from his peers. A victim of racism. A need for greater belonging. But it led to a combined 16 years of prison sentences.

This is not a recent case – but one which started in London in 2002. Many of the aspects of gang behaviour have been the same for nearly two decades. However, the “county lines” element, where they run drugs operations out of major cities into counties represents a real threat to young people and local communities. Some of the criminality that these gangs have been involved with have been known to now include child sexual exploitation and modern-day slavery cases.

PCCs have their role to play in tackling serious violence. We are elected to make communities safer. We do this by supporting victims, setting priorities, securing funding and building partnerships.

The PCC role is needed now more than ever. Whilst policing looks to work better together regionally and nationally, it is important that the democratic oversight, accountability and transparency we offer is not lost and that victims and local projects do not miss out. We can provide the focus and attention that these issues deserve in its widest sense and across the public sector.

As many as 40 per cent of London county lines have a footprint in Kent. This represents a challenge for local policing, but one which has been well mapped by Kent Police in conjunction with other Forces and agencies.

That’s why I’m working with people like Francis to educate young people about the risks of being involved with a gang. It’s part of a massive investment in prevention, education, enforcement and diversion that has come from my Violence Reduction Challenge – the biggest study of Kent crime data and activity undertaken.

The results of the Challenge have seen the establishment of a Medway Taskforce, which is bringing agencies together to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour. Funding is in place so that schools in every district will have access to gangs awareness talks. Community Safety Partnerships have stepped up and are using nearly half of the funding I give them now for local violence reduction initiatives.

The Police Cadets programme will continue to grow too. I Fund this scheme locally, which engages young people from all backgrounds ages 13-17 and builds positive relationships with the Police, as well as skills, confidence and resilience. Crucially, over 40 per cent of cadets has been identified as needing support to avoid them getting caught up in crime.

These brilliant young people are supporting their local communities with social action projects, volunteering at events and fundraising for good causes. Some of them are now joining the Police as Officers and Staff, thanks to their brilliant volunteer leaders.

Kent Volunteer Police Cadets will be in every part of Kent by the end of this year – there were none when I was elected in 2016.

On top of this I have secured additional money from the Home Office. This year, I’ve won £1.7 million for extra Police enforcement which has seen hundreds of arrests and the expansion of the Police’s gangs team. I’ve also secured £1.1 million to set up a multi-agency violence reduction unit, and £700,000 to work with St Giles Trust and others to give young people like Francis a way out of gangs.

The reality is however that Government funding for these projects needs to be made more sustainable. All of this effort from local and central funding over the next three years is worth £6.8 million, but too much is at risk from short-termism from Home Office pots. This needs to end. We need Boris Johnson to deliver on his brilliant pledge for 20,000 more Police Officers so we can join up prevention and enforcement.

And if the Government wanted to be radical – it could commit to funding for emergency services’ cadet units across the country, in the same way they have encouraged the expansion of armed forces cadets in schools.

I’m not stopping here. I’m looking at ways I can work better with schools and youth groups to empower them and help provide new opportunities. I’m building a register of recommended actions for different agencies that have already been made so they can be held to account by the public and me. I’ll be investing more in crime prevention.

There’s going to be a “Mini Cadet” scheme for primary school pupils launched as a pilot soon, which will see engagement with year 5 and 6 pupils. And I’m bidding to the 10 year Youth Endowment Fund to help expand all of this work – an example of good longer-term thinking from Sajid Javid.

The vast majority of young people are good, hard working and responsible citizens. We need PCCs, as their voice in policing and criminal justice, to speak up for them, and help protect them from the risks of exploitation and criminalisation by heinous groups of gangs.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Local elections: An analysis of results in the south east

The overall results of the local elections were very bad for the Conservatives. But there was great variation between regions and within regions. So we are providing a series that will attempt to get a better grasp of what happened in different parts of the country. We will start with the south east. In terms of accepted bureaucratic definitions, this area covers the following local authorities which held elections.

First of all, these unitary authorities had all their seats up for election:

  • Bracknell Forest
  • Brighton and Hove
  • Medway
  • West Berkshire
  • Windsor and Maidenhead

These unitary councils had a third of their seats up:

  • Milton Keynes
  • Portsmouth
  • Reading
  • Slough
  • Southampton
  • Wokingham

The following district councils had all their seats up for election:

  • Arun
  • Ashford
  • Canterbury
  • Chichester
  • Crawley
  • Dartford
  • Dover
  • East Hampshire
  • Eastbourne
  • Epsom & Ewell
  • Gravesham
  • Guildford
  • Horsham
  • Lewes
  • Mid Sussex
  • New Forest
  • Reigate and Banstead
  • Rother
  • Runnymede
  • Sevenoaks
  • South Oxfordshire
  • Spelthorne
  • Surrey Heath
  • Swale
  • Test Valley
  • Thanet
  • Tonbridge and Malling
  • Vale of White Horse
  • Waverley
  • Windsor and Maidenhead

These districts had a third of their seats contested:

  • Basingstoke & Deane
  • Cherwell
  • Eastleigh
  • Elmbridge
  • Hart
  • Havant
  • Maidstone
  • Mole Valley
  • Tandridge
  • Tunbridge Wells
  • West Oxfordshire
  • Winchester
  • Woking
  • Worthing

How did the different political parties fare?

Conservatives

This is a strong part of the country for the Conservatives. We also started from a particularly impressive position in terms of previous election results.

In Surrey, the Conservatives lost control of Tandridge, Guildford, and Waverley. In other places – notably Surrey Heath – there were heavy losses but control of the council maintained.

Apart from Brexit, the challenge for Conservatives in this area is to meet the twin demands for more homes and protecting the greenbelt. The answer to the conundrum is for new housing to be beautiful and attractive – and to identify pieces of land for development that might be within the “greenbelt” but are decidedly brown and scuzzy. Another factor might be that Conservative district councillors are suffering due to the failings of their profligate county council colleagues. A couple of years ago Surrey County Council contemplated holding a referendum on 15 per cent Council tax increase.

The Guildford results were shocking. The Conservatives lost 25 seats to end up with just nine.

In Kent, the Conservatives lost control of Shepway (which has been renamed Folkestone & Hythe). The Conservatives there are seeking to negotiate a coalition. Swale was another defeat, where independents were the biggest winners. Tunbridge Wells saw seats lost to the Lib Dems and Labour but also to the Tunbridge Wells Alliance. Their pitch was anti-development (a particularly popular message when the new developments happen to include “shiny new Council offices”). But if proposed new developments are ugly, is it any surprise that they are unpopular? Ashford saw the Conservatives keep control of the Council, but lose 13 seats. Sevenoaks provided better results – as already reported here.

Chichester in West Sussex saw the Conservative hold onto control – but lose 13 seats.

Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrats gained Mole Valley from no overall control. They picked up seats here and there. But the news from Guildford, while disastrous for the Conservatives was also salutary for the Lib Dems. True, they won 17 council seats. But “Residents for Guildford and Villages” won 15, while the Guildford Greenbelt Group won four. It is not for me to claim any inside knowledge regarding the relations between Residents for Guildford and Villages and the Guildford Greenbelt Group. Perhaps they don’t get on. But I note that, combined, they have more councillors than the Lib Dems. Guildford returned a Lib Dem MP in 2001. The Lib Dems used to run the Council. No longer does a Conservative defeat mean a victory for the Lib Dems.

Labour

The main victory for Labour was gaining Gravesham. But how much of this was due to Tory disarray? Several Conservative councillors – including the council leader – became Independent Conservatives. Several of them stood in the elections and a couple won seats. Perhaps the Corbynista message is always unlikely to resonate in this area. Yet the Green Party made progress not only in Brighton and Hove. They also gained three seats in Reigate and Banstead, where Labour didn’t win any. Why does Mid Sussex have three Green Party councillors but no Labour ones? The explanation might be that the Conservatives have failed to show people how extremist the Green Party is.

Conclusion

It is easy to conclude that the Conservatives were the biggest losers. The question of who won is more complicated. Nationally the focus may have been on Brexit. That has certainly been huge. It has prompted hitherto loyal Conservatives to look around for alternatives. But it is also significant that often the alternative has proved to be anti-development independents protesting about the arrogance of planners who impose unpopular schemes on their communities. The Conservatives cannot afford to be anti-development. Sharply increasing the housing supply is an imperative. But nor can the Conservatives, of all people, be indifferent to those seeking to defend the fabric of the communities they love. The answer is for the new homes to blend in, to be sympathetic. They should be an enhancement rather than a blight. It really should not be that hard to go back to building to the standards we managed to achieve in previous centuries.

So certainly there is a message to get on and deliver a proper Brexit. But also for the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission to produce some tangible results. There is a difference though. While councillors can’t do much about Brexit, they can ensure development is popular by requiring it to be attractive, or at least to cease the routine requirement for it to be ugly. There has been a lot of talk about “hard-working” councillors losing seats. How many are sufficiently hard-working to write their own planning policies? How many adopt the lazy (and disastrous) option of leaving it up to the planning officers?

 

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com