Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill: Second Reading, House of Lords, 14 September 2021

All new duties included within the Bill must be fully funded to enable councils effectively deliver them. It would also be helpful for the Government to extend the Violence Reduction Unit funding, already made available to 18 Police and Crime Commissioners, to the remaining 23 local areas.


Key messages

  • The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill covers a wide range of community safety issues and seeks to introduce measures which aim to have an impact on victims of crime, those who perpetrate crimes, and wider community safety.
  • Councils will continue to play their important role, alongside the police and partners, in protecting our communities and ensuring they are safe places to live.
  • Part 2 of the Bill seeks to place a new statutory duty on local authorities and wider partners to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence. We support taking a public health approach to tackle serious violent crime, and this must be matched with adequate investment in early intervention and prevention.
  • There are several measures in the Bill that warrant further formal consultation, particularly the Offensive Weapons Homicide Reviews, imposing conditions on public protests, and the youth justice measures.
  • All new duties included within the Bill must be fully funded to enable councils effectively deliver them. It would also be helpful for the Government to extend the Violence Reduction Unit funding, already made available to 18 Police and Crime Commissioners, to the remaining 23 local areas.
  • To effectively tackle youth crime and address its under-lying causes, it is vital that the Youth Justice Grant does not face a further real terms reduction at the forthcoming Spending Review. The Government should also release the £500 million Youth Investment Fund, announced in 2019, as soon as possible, alongside long-term, sustainable funding for councils’ youth and children’s services to support a cost-effective, preventative approach to crime.
  • The Bill should complement the measures outlined in the Domestic Abuse Act and the Government’s Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy, as well as wider legislation and guidance, to ensure that simultaneous changes to the local government community safety landscape are considered collectively and carefully.
  • While this is a Home Office and Ministry of Justice led Bill, any new measures should be considered at a cross-Departmental level to deliver an effective multi-agency approach to preventing and tackling crime. Without involvement from the Department for Health and Social Care and the Department for Education, it will not be possible to embed early intervention and prevention measures across all key agencies and implement the right interventions to divert individuals away from violent crime.

Duties to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence (Part 2, Prevention, Investigation and Prosecution of Crime, Clauses 7 - 12)

  • Part 2 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill seeks to place a duty on specified authorities for a local government area to collaborate with the other specified authorities for that same area to prevent and reduce serious violence.
  • The specified authorities are chief officers of police, specified health authorities, local authorities, probation service providers, youth offending teams and fire and rescue services.
  • The Bill outlines that each specified authority must collaborate with every other specified authority in that area, to establish a local problem profile/ strategic needs assessment and develop and publish a local strategy to outline the collective action they intend to take.

Local government response to tackling serious violent crime

  • Tackling serious violent crime is a key priority for councils. This has become even more vital due to the rising levels of this type of crime and the harm it causes to victims and communities, as well as the young people and vulnerable adults drawn and exploited into committing it.
  • There needs to be an understanding across all partners of what is meant by ‘serious violent crime’. In the context of the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy, this refers to violent crime that occurs in a public space, for example knife crime, homicides, robbery or gun crime.
  • However, for many areas, serious violent crime will mean domestic abuse or activity by serious organised crime gangs. So, whilst there is a focus on public space violent crime, different areas will experience varying levels and types of serious violent crime. This will require different responses at a local level and the Bill must ensure there is flexibility within the system to enable this.
  • Law enforcement and criminal justice measures are only part of the response needed to tackle serious violent crime. A multi-agency partnership approach is required, working across Government departments and all agencies, including the police, health, charities and a range of local government services such as, education, social services and youth services.
  • We support the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of taking a public health approach to reducing violent crime. A public heath approach is one that ‘seeks to improve the health and safety of all individuals by addressing underlying risk factors that increase the likelihood that an individual will become a victim or a perpetrator of violence. By definition, public health aims to provide the maximum benefit for the largest number of people. Programmes for primary prevention of violence based on the public health approach are designed to expose a broad segment of a population to prevention measures and to reduce and prevent violence at a population-level.’
  • By identifying the early indicators and risk factors of serious violence, this can help key agencies to implement the right interventions and divert individuals away from violent crime. Taking a public health approach to reducing violence recognises the necessity both of gaining an understanding of violence through evidence and of responding to the problem through carefully designed interventions.
  • Any new statutory duty on local authorities will need to receive long-term, sustainable funding and cannot continue to be funded through one-off, short term grants.

Children’s and Youth Services

  • Over the past decade, councils have faced significant reductions in funding, which has hampered their ability to invest in early intervention and preventative services for children and young people. Spending on preventative children’s services fell from 41 per cent of children’s services budgets in 2010/11 to just 25 per cent in 2017/18, while spending on youth services reduced by 69 per cent, from £1.4 billion to £429 million.
  • To effectively address youth crime and its underlying causes, it is vital that councils are provided with long-term, sustainable funding to restore preventative children’s and youth services. The £500 million Youth Investment Fund, announced in September 2019, should be released as soon as possible to support the youth service sector. Returning the early intervention grant to 2010/11 funding levels by providing an extra £1.7 billion would also enable councils to reinstate some of these lost services, which support early intervention work that is proven to improve children and young people’s outcomes and reduce long-term costs.
  • The Youth Justice Grant, which has been reduced by 50 per cent in the last decade, should, at the very least, be maintained at its current level in real terms at the forthcoming Spending Review. This funding is vital to ensure youth offending teams can give young offenders the dedicated help they need, and continue with their work that has delivered substantial reductions in youth crime to date.

Violence reduction units

  • The Home Office has outlined that the new serious violence duty will complement the Government’s investment in the 18 Violence Reduction Units (VRUs). These VRUs have been established in the areas most affected by serious violence and seek to ensure that agencies work effectively together.
  • Violence Reduction Units are expected to bring together different organisations, including the police, local government, health, community leaders and other key partners to tackle violent crime by understanding its root causes. The new units were responsible for identifying what is driving violent crime in the area and coming up with a coordinated response.
  • The Home Office’s evaluation of Violence Reduction Units (August 2020) found “good progress had generally been made by the VRUs over the first year of the programme, which had in most cases laid a foundation for a more evidence-based and targeted response to serious violence in year two of the programme”.
  • Given the relative success of the 18 VRU areas, it would be helpful if the Government could outline whether there are further plans to extend the VRU model to the remaining 23 police force areas.

Amendments to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (Part 2, Clause 19)

  • In addition to the proposed serious violence duty, Clause 19 of the Bill seeks to amend the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The 1998 Act introduced Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs) (formerly known as Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships) to help tackle crime and reduce offending. This clause amends the 1998 Act to ensure preventing and reducing serious violence is a priority for CSPs.
  • It is important to highlight that CSPs have had their funding steadily withdrawn since 2010, which will have an impact on the resources and capacity available. It would be helpful for the Government to review the impact of these funding reductions on CSPs and councils’ ability to address the range of crime issues they are expected to assist other partners in tackling, with a view to increasing that core funding.

Offensive Weapons Homicide Review (Chapter 2, Clauses 23 - 35)

  • We would welcome the opportunity to contribute further to the provisions outlined for Offensive Weapons Homicide Reviews, to ensure there is consistency across all the current homicide review arrangements. It is important these reviews are piloted in local areas, and their impact is assessed, before any decisions are made on a national roll-out.
  • It will be important to build on the learning from the Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) process and wider safeguarding review processes, and address some of the key challenges identified by Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs). For example, national learning from DHRs hasn’t been circulated since 2016, so there is a missed opportunity for sharing best practice. CSPs have identified difficulties in securing independent DHR chairs, and delays in the quality assurance process has meant some recommendations and findings have limited value when significant changes have already occurred.
  • The 2014-17 triennial review of Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) also identified resource and capacity issues when conducting reviews: “The challenges facing practitioners were strongly evident in these SCRs, particularly the challenges of working within limited resources, with high caseloads, high levels of staff turnover, and fragmented services.”
  • Any additional statutory duty placed on local authorities will need to be adequately funded. The accompanying statutory guidance will also need to robustly outline the criteria for an Offensive Weapons Homicide Review.

Positions of trust (Part 2, Chapter 4, Clause 45)

  • The LGA supports this clause, which will provide additional protection to young people who may be vulnerable to grooming and brings duties for sports coaches and those teaching or supervising in religious settings into line with others working closely with children and young people.

Imposing conditions on public processions, on public assemblies and on one-person protests (Part 3, Clauses 55 - 61)

  • Whilst any protest, including lawful protest, is likely to have some disruptive impact, protest is long recognised as a fundamental right in a free society.
  • Unlawful protest and disruption and political violence are by definition already illegal and a matter for the police, who already have the power to investigate and bring charges against those responsible for committing such acts.
  • We recognise that there can be a difficult balance to achieve between ensuring freedom of expression, and protest - both fundamental aspects of our democracy - and with responding to activity which may result in criminality or disruption.
  • We are more concerned with protest activity that targets certain communities or those with particular characteristics (as opposed to activity which is disruptive only) and which can therefore stoke division and mistrust between communities. Tackling this requires a long-term strategic approach beyond legislation, with investment in measures to build resilience and help prevent extremism and issues from emerging.
  • These clauses require further consultation, as they could have a considerable impact on local communities. The LGA will seek further clarity from the Government on these specific proposals.

Unauthorised encampments (Part 4)

  • Unauthorised encampments are an issue that can cause significant distress and inconvenience to local communities, as well as substantial costs to the statutory authorities trying to resolve the problems caused.
  • However not all councils have experienced issues with unauthorised encampments or have experienced significant problems where they have occurred. To inform this work, there is a need for better data on the number and scale of unauthorised encampments being established.
  • Although strengthened police powers offer the potential to help tackle unauthorised encampments, effectively tackling unauthorised encampments will require a multi-agency response and the resources to support this.
  • To support the use of both existing and any new powers, it is also important that Government moves quickly to bring forward the good practice guidance it has committed to produce to support councils to deal with unauthorised encampments, building on the range of best practice work that is already taking place.
  • This should include a focus on developing a collaborative approach involving members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community to help to resolve some unauthorised encampments issues, which should be the first course of action wherever possible.

Youth remand (Part 8, Clause 132)

  • We support the ambition of ensuring children are only remanded to custody where this is genuinely the only option. However, we have concerns around the practical implications of this, including ensuring the right support and placements are available for children on non-custodial remand, and ensuring children are not held on remand for lengthy periods of time. We are keen to discuss this further with the Government as we move to implement this clause.

Youth rehabilitation orders (Part 8, Clause 136)

  • This clause will see additional responsibilities placed on youth offending teams, which have already seen their funding cut by half over the last decade. We therefore call on the Government to consider resources available to youth offending teams when introducing this clause.

Serious Violence Reduction Orders (Part 10, Clause 140 - 141)

  • Knife crime has a devastating impact on victims, their families and communities. The significant rise in such crimes committed by young people is of enormous concern to local government, and we share the Government’s desire to address this issue.
  • Councils are working hard with their partners to tackle all youth crime, including knife crime. The Government’s Serious Violence Strategy and the Offensive Weapons Act have raised important debates about the causes of, and responses to, these crimes.
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  • Children and young people are often coerced into criminal activity and are not able to, or may not feel able to, refuse or escape. Where children and young people are criminally exploited, such as in county lines operations, they need to be supported and recognised as victims of crime. A multidisciplinary partnership approach is needed to support children and young people out of potentially violent, exploitative situations, and divert them away from crime.
  • Before introducing a separate Serious Violence Reduction Order, it would be useful to know how the Knife Crime Prevention Order (KCPO) pilots have progressed and if they have an impact on knife crime and wider serious violent crime.
  • We would welcome any further clarity on how the KCPO and the SVRO are intended to be used and how they differ, as it is understood that KCPOs can also be made upon conviction.
  • The Government needs to make clear what data requirements and monitoring there will be of SVROs, and there should be Parliamentary scrutiny of how these powers are being used. There should be particular scrutiny of how these new orders have been applied to people with an ethnic minority background.
  • It is vital that councils are properly resourced to enable investment in preventative universal and early help services so that children, young people and their families can get the practical, emotional, educational and mental health support they need, as soon as they need it – and before problems escalate.

Contact

Megan Edwards, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

megan.edwards@local.gov.uk