Headlines: July 21st, 2008

The Government is being counselled against using centralised policies to tackle gang violence and knife crime. A report from the New Local Government Network argues that focusing on Whitehall-driven targets fails to take account of the diverse nature of many gangs and it says local areas should be able to take action based on local factors.

Councils, the report says, should have control over local neighbourhood policing and the freedom to develop strategies to tackle gang violence. Local citizens, it suggests, could also have greater influence over community sentences for gang-related crimes. The report also calls for more ‘pre-emptive’ investment in the most seriously affected neighbourhoods and for a creative approach to the use of youth mentors to counter the danger of people being influenced by gangs.

The Director of the NLGN, Chris Leslie said gangs existed for various reasons, include drug-dealing, geographical territorialism and mutual protection. This meant that local problems needed local solutions.

There had been what he called ‘a litany of Whitehall-led initiatives’ to tackle gang related violence. “Whilst these have undoubtedly highlighted some of the real issues around gang violence, they have not promoted greater local flexibility to tackle local problems. By giving elected council leaders control over local neighbourhood policing, communities would have a direct say over where gang-related issues are tackled and how successfully police are in stopping it,” he said.

The ‘Gangs at the Grassroots: Community solutions to street violence’ highlights innovative projects in Lambeth, Manchester and Islington as evidence of councils’ ability to develop successful responses to gang violence. The projects are multi-agency solutions, which not only reduce violence but also promote education and employment.

The report, written by Anthony Brand, says it is vital that where schemes have worked they must continue to be funded. It also criticises a lack of funding for local initiatives and says only 20 million pounds has been spent on local multi-agency interventions and only 1.75 million has been given to local community groups to support specific gang projects.