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Crime: Local Authority Funding

Volume 791: debated on Wednesday 13 June 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what impact reductions in local authority funding have had on crime levels.

My Lords, the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy sets out our analysis and the trends, drivers and risk factors behind the recent increases. We had an excellent debate on those issues on Monday. Our analysis points to changes in the drugs market as being a major factor. In particular, these changes have been driven by an increased supply of cocaine, increased use of crack cocaine and the growth of county lines as a means of drugs supply. The growth of social media has also facilitated this.

My Lords, young people are being drawn into gangs because they seek a sense of belonging. The positive alternatives to gangs, which used to be provided by local authority youth services, and by charities and community groups through local authority core funding, are no longer there because grants from central government to councils have been reduced by 49% in real terms since 2010. Do the Government accept responsibility for the loss of those vital services, and what are they going to do about it?

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, local authorities are responsible for allocating funding to youth services, in line with local needs. The Government have made more than £200 billion available to councils for spending on local services up to 2019-20. The Government, in partnership with the Big Lottery Fund, have also invested £80 million, £40 million to #iwillFund and £40 million to the Youth Investment Fund to increase opportunities for young people.

My Lords, what can be done to produce more positive male role models of various ethnicities, and to support and fund local authorities to help such men give young men examples of the right thing to do and how one behaves?

The noble Earl makes a very good point. The answer to his question is yes. A further £1 million from the Anti-Knife Crime Community Fund has been given to community groups by the Government. Of course, we also have a transformational fund to the value of £175 million, for which police forces can also bid. We also have in place mentor and support places for young people in the community.

My Lords, councils have a key role in protecting communities and delivering services to residents. Will my noble friend the Minister update the House on the Government’s plans to use the spending review process to assess the key pressure points on local authority funding, including on youth services, that can help to prevent crime, and how it is affecting the delivery of local public services?

My noble friend Lady Eaton makes a very good point. It is very important that we have an emphasis on working very closely with councils and local authorities. It is clear that the spending review gives the opportunity to local authorities to look at their resources and work very closely with the Home Office—and it gives them the opportunity to bid for fresh resources, if needed.

My Lords, the youth offending team budget from central government was £145 million in 2010; today it is £72 million. What does the noble Baroness think the effect of that is?

As I have said, the Home Office is working very closely with local authorities, and the spending review will give them a further opportunity to bid for necessary services. As the Home Secretary himself has said, it will be a high priority for the Home Office in the spending review to see if we can get increased funding.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness appreciate that there has been an exponential rise in thefts from farms and rural houses of expensive machinery, and that very little seems to be being done to prevent them because the police forces in rural areas are so diminished?

I am sorry to hear that. We understand that there has been a significant rise in serious crime but, to reassure noble Lords, overall, the police will get around £1 billion more than they did three years ago. They have the resources they need. Kent and Essex police forces are looking to recruit 200 and 150 more police officers, respectively, this year, and I take the opportunity to quote Kent’s Chief Constable Pughsley:

“This is the biggest recruitment drive Kent Police has ever seen and I want to be clear that this isn’t about replacing officers who are leaving—this is about having more officers to do more things to keep people safe”.

My Lords, given that the vast majority of police funding is allocated to human resources, is it not inevitable that any large reduction in police funding will affect boots on the ground? I know the value of community policing—interacting with the community, local shops and so on—and that seems to be where we have been hit. It was replaced to some extent by bringing in community support officers, but even they have been hit by the spending cuts. Can the noble Baroness tell the House how many police forces still have community support officers?

Of course, community funding and policing are very important. However, I do not have that figure to hand; I will write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, I am very concerned about the answer that was given to the question about the funding of youth offending teams. Those teams have had huge success in cutting reoffending by young people and in reducing custodial sentences for young people. It is vital that their funding is restored. Can the Minister please give us an assurance that this really important work in preventing young people going to prison will get the funding it desperately needs?

My Lords, that is way above my pay grade. I cannot give that commitment, but it is an issue that the Government take very seriously and, as I have said, during the spending review that will happen next year, these matters will be looked at in the round.

My Lords, under this Government, the police have lost over 20,000 officers and violent crime rose last year by 18%. Can the noble Baroness seriously stand in front of us and say that the reduction in police officers has not contributed to a rise in crime?

My Lords, the rise in crime, particularly violent crime, is very complex and multifaceted. As I said in our debate on the Serious Violence Strategy, the issues around drugs and county lines is very serious and is driving a significant proportion of crime. Some of this, of course, is about looking at how the police are recording crime, but I hear what the noble Baroness has said. We are taking this issue very seriously and, as I said, the Home Secretary has promised that we will look at each police force to see what its needs are.