A glimpse at community safety….

Last week I was very privileged to be invited to speak to a group of community safety officers and local authority and police leaders. The Home Office published a ‘New Approach to Fighting Crime’ and the Home Secretary led the conference, supported  by Nick Herbert, Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice and James Brokenshire Minister for Crime Prevention. I was asked to speak on the role that the voluntary sector can play in working in partnership with statutory agencies.

The main points to come out from the conference included:

  • considerable focus on the part of the Home Office ministers on the role to be played by Police and Crime commissioners in future. This was presented as giving a voice back to local communities about their priorities on cutting crime and also in helping to cut bureaucracy. I think it’s fair to say that there was considerable concern among the audience about the practical implementation of this, and the fact that  “local democracy”  could be distorted by relatively low turnouts in local elections for the new commissioners.
  • The role of the MARAC was highlighted by the Home Secretary as an example of good partnership working and an effective response to a complex problem
  • there were a number of questions from the audience about the opportunity that the public health White Paper gives us to link commissioning the services such as those for victims of domestic abuse or those with substance misuse issues.  Again concerns were expressed that  there was a lack of clarity and commitment from the health service about their role in this area.We will be preparing a response to the White Paper.

My comments on the role of the voluntary sector were in two parts. Firstly I highlighted that responding to community safety issues is far more complex than some of the more traditional areas where the voluntary sector delivers services on behalf of, or in partnership with, local authorities. By traditional, I mean areas like social care, housing etc. Almost by definition, effective community safety work will involve multiagency working with all the challenges that brings. There is a role for the voluntary sector in terms of service delivery and the key strength that we bring to this is our ability to engage with the client or service user. Without this engagement all of the resources that are disbursed will have more limited effect.

I focused also on the role of the voluntary sector as being a “backbone” organisation  for multiagency work. I think we have a crucial role to play in helping to define the social outcomes that we are aiming for, how we measure those outcomes, how we collect the data and how we use that learning to improve our response. I encouraged the audience to think of the contribution the voluntary sector as a “marginal” investment–akin to buying a set of keys when buying a car–without the keys (in my mind the ‘backbone’ work) the car is of limited value. We’ve estimated that the marginal investment in developing MARACs and IDVAs has been about £6 million over the last six years.   This has unlocked support for over 70,000 high-risk victims, of whom we estimate that in the last year alone, 11,000 were kept safe.   A remarkable social return.

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