Serious youth violence Contents

3Government leadership on Serious Violence


43.During the first weekend of March 2019, 17-year-old Jodie Chesney was murdered in a knife attack in a park in East London; a day later, Yousef Ghaleb Makki, also 17, was stabbed to death in a village near Altrincham, Greater Manchester. The murders triggered a wave of media coverage and criticism of the Government’s approach to serious violence. The former Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker MP, now a Labour backbencher, said that the Cabinet’s emergency committee, COBRA, should meet to respond to the “national crisis”.63 The NPCC Chair at the time, Sara Thornton, told the press: “When you have an emergency you get all the key people around the table to solve the problem, setting up COBRA with a senior minister holding people to account”, because “it is not just about policing, it’s about all the other agencies and organisation. It’s an emergency and it needs some emergency funding.”64 She re-emphasised this message when she gave evidence to us in March:

Early intervention is not really a matter for the Home Office. A lot of the community work similarly is not a matter for the Home Office. We think there needs to be something that is concentrating the minds. [ … ] getting the most senior people around the table and owning the problem and asking what can we do jointly to solve the problem.

[ … ] You will get me into a lot of trouble for saying this. I think that where we have so many young people dying in our streets, we need a much more concerted response from Government.65

44.The Prime Minister responded by announcing that she would hold a summit in 10 Downing Street “in the coming days”, in order to “bring together Ministers, community leaders, agencies and others” and “explore what more we can do as a whole society to tackle this problem”.66 The summit took place during the first week of April. The Home Secretary also chaired a meeting with chief constables from the forces with the highest levels of serious violence, and announced that he wanted knife crime to be treated “like a disease”.67 The following week, the Chancellor announced an additional £100m for police forces in his Spring Statement, “ring-fenced to pay for additional overtime targeted specifically on knife crime, and for new violent crime reduction units, to deliver a wider cross-agency response to this epidemic”.68 This chapter considers the quality of Government leadership on this issue, including the effectiveness of the Serious Violence Taskforce and the additional actions emerging from the Prime Minister’s knife crime summit.

The Serious Violence Taskforce

45.The Serious Violence Strategy committed to establishing a “new cross sector Serious Violence Taskforce with key representatives from a range of national, local and delivery partner agencies”, to oversee delivery and “challenge the impact of delivery of the Serious Violence Strategy”. The Inter-Ministerial Group on Gangs was also “refocused to oversee and drive delivery of the strategy”.69 The Taskforce is chaired by the Home Secretary and includes representatives from the police service and children’s sector, the Minister for Children, and the Mayor of London.70

46.We were keen to find out how effective the Taskforce has been at gathering evidence, overseeing delivery of the strategy, driving action against serious violence, and holding the Government to account. Ahead of our evidence session with the Minister for Safeguarding, we wrote to the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid MP, asking him how many actions had arisen for Taskforce members at each meeting; whether it was working to an action plan with clear targets (and, if so, what those targets were); what indicators he was using to measure the Taskforce’s performance and impact; and whether he would share the agendas and minutes from each meeting. He responded at the beginning of May, stating that Taskforce discussions had been “instrumental” in the development of a number of initiatives, including the Youth Endowment Fund, the ‘public health’ duty to share data, and the additional £100m announced by the Chancellor in March.

47.The Home Secretary declined to provide us with minutes of the Taskforce’s meetings. He said that it is “essential” that the discussions are “confidential”, so that “members are able to speak freely”, but he provided us with agendas and lists of attendees for each meeting. These showed that The Taskforce met monthly from April 2018 onwards, but took an extended break last summer, with no meetings held between 17 July and 22 October 2018. The Serious Violence Strategy stated that the Inter-Ministerial Group would meet only on a quarterly basis.71

48.Witnesses have told us that the Taskforce has focused on the capital, despite rising violence elsewhere. Sara Thornton told us that the group was “rather London-centric”,72 and she had not seen minutes from any of its meetings.73 She suggested that responsibility for driving activity at a national level should lie with the Prime Minister. Cressida Dick said that the Taskforce has allowed Ministers to be “better informed”, and has resulted in money being made available “for a particular project”, but she reinforced her desire to see, “from a Government point of view, [ … ] much more happening on the ground”.74 She also told us that it was “set up at a time when a huge amount of focus was on London”, adding: “If that group was to become more obviously and strongly focused beyond London, then of course I would be very comfortable with that”.75 Dave Thompson, Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, confirmed that the group has had a “London bias”.76

49.The Serious Violence Taskforce, along with the Inter-Ministerial Group on Serious Violence, has been one of the Government’s main drivers of national action and oversight of the Serious Violence Strategy. We are therefore concerned by the infrequency of the Taskforce’s meetings and the absence of measurable targets or milestones for it to work towards, or on which it can hold to account the Government, local agencies and other organisations involved in delivering the strategy. Criticisms that it is a London-centric group are also cause for concern. The Taskforce did not meet at all between July and October 2018, a period in which knife crime was continuing to rise. This does not paint a picture of focused, sustained and proactive scrutiny and action. There is little evidence of resulting action or policy change, either from the Inter-Ministerial Group or the Taskforce. Moreover, the fact that the Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council had not seen minutes from any of the Taskforce’s meetings is an indictment of its profile and levels of output.

A ‘public health’ approach

50.The Home Secretary and Prime Minister have repeatedly supported the idea of taking a ‘public health approach’ to serious violence, inspired by the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) in Scotland. The VRU was established in Glasgow in 2005, with the aim of reducing knife and weapon carrying in the city, then branded the murder capital of Europe.77 It was founded in 2005 by Strathclyde Police, and describes the public health approach as treating “violence like a disease”, adding: “We seek to diagnose and analyse the root causes of violence in Scotland, then develop and evaluate solutions which can be scaled-up across the country.”78

51.A third of the Government’s additional £100 million for knife crime policing is being allocated to new “violence reduction units”, to drive an inter-agency approach to violent crime. In April, the Home Secretary said: “A public health approach doesn’t mean passing the problem onto the NHS or a teacher. Rather, it means that serious violence is treated like the outbreak of some virulent disease. A national emergency”.79 The Home Office’s consultation on the duty for public services to share data, outlined in Chapter 4 of this report, said that a public health approach has the following features:

52.Witnesses to this inquiry praised the Scottish model, but warned against a wholesale ‘lift and shift’ to England and Wales. Professor Simon Harding, an expert in gangs and youth violence, said that the model’s partnership approach would create significant challenges in England, and even in a more contained location such as London:

Glasgow is approximately the size of two London boroughs. It is only 600,000 people. It is a single unitary authority and a single political colouring. In London we have 32 boroughs plus the City of London, each of different political colouring. There are huge challenges there. The Glasgow City Council is very close in its proximity to Government; it is a very flat structure. In England and in London, that is extremely difficult; it is a very extenuated structure.81

We return to the subject of local safeguarding and partnership work in Chapter 4.

53.The evidence we received suggested that the Government’s rhetoric on public health has not yet been reflected in its actions. Chief Constable Dave Thompson criticised the Home Office for producing “quite a crime-based strategy. If you look at the document, it alludes to a public health based strategy, but it is not yet a public health based strategy”.82 Others pointed out that there had been insufficient coordination across Government at a national level, as well as a lack of understanding of the size of the population at risk; both of these concerns are outlined in further detail below. Last year, the interim report of the Youth Violence Commission warned of “an increasing risk that the term ‘public health model’ is being used without a proper understanding of what is actually required to affect lasting change”.83 We consider the ‘public health’ approach again in chapters 4 and 6 of this report, including the need to improve data-sharing at a local level.

54.A consideration of the impact of the Government’s funding of and guidance around the provision of drug and alcohol addiction services is also central to appraising its public health approach to tackling serious violence. The Serious Violence Strategy highlighted that, in more than a third of homicides during 2016/17, either the victim or suspect had consumed alcohol prior to the incident.84 The BBC reported last year that spending on drug and alcohol treatment services in England fell from £877m in 2013–14 to £716m in 2017–18.85 We return to the subject of drug treatment provision in Chapter 4.

55.The Government and local authorities need to address urgently the widening gap between demand for and provision of public health services, in the context of links between alcohol and susceptibility to serious violence. Serious consideration should also be given to the appropriate provision of services, balancing harm reduction for users with wider public safety concerns. Engagement with mental health services is also crucial to ensuring appropriate provision.

National leadership on serious violence

56.In the first week of April, the Prime Minister hosted a Summit on Serious Youth Violence at 10 Downing Street, attended by Ministers, policing leaders, experts and agencies involved in tackling knife crime and other forms of violence. A report on the Summit stated that the Prime Minister would chair a new Ministerial Taskforce to “coordinate Government activity and ensure all departments are playing their part in reducing serious violence”, supported by a new Serious Violence Team in the Cabinet Office.86 The Government will also produce an action plan. It is not yet clear how often the Prime Minister’s Taskforce will meet or when the Cabinet Office team will be in place, nor what level of resource it will attract.

57.Dame Louise Casey was scathing about the Government’s leadership on serious violence to date; she was also explicit about what she would consider to be a more effective approach. She highlighted the importance of following up the Number 10 summit, in which victims’ families have invested time and energy:

Some good can come out of those things, but there has to be more than a bloody summit. You have to have a strategy and it has to be implemented. Also, for the victims’ families who go along to those summits, and remember that I have been the Victims’ Commissioner, they take them incredibly seriously. So, if you do nothing once you have had a summit, you are disrespecting the victims and their families [ … ]. Big hopes arise when people have those summits, and if they are not fulfilled, we are letting down the people who have been let down by everybody else.87

58.Dame Louise argued that a much more targeted response was required and called for “fortnightly meetings” chaired by the Prime Minister. These should be serviced by “independent civil servants” who would “put the evidence in place”, ensuring that “people around the table—all Secretaries of State and Ministers—with responsibility for anything in this arena, [ … ] were brought together”, and “you would push forward”. Although she expressed cynicism at an approach that she described as “Have a summit; appoint a tsar; issue guidance”, she later conceded that the sort of coordinated activity she was advocating “probably does need an individual or a team—a tsar or something like that—who would relentlessly push forward”. She clarified: “It would be their 24-hour job, seven days a week. They would sit next to the Prime Minister and say, “Last time I heard, nothing had changed.”88

59.The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, told us that she had attended the Prime Minister’s Summit, at which she made very clear her views about the need for stronger Government leadership:

When I sat at the summit a couple of weeks ago, I said that I thought the Prime Minister needed to have a phone call every week with the people who had been charged to deliver this. I have written to at least four different Ministers and Secretaries of State asking them to do a whole range of things, such as instruct the safeguarding boards to gather information on the scale of risk and ensure that there are plans in place to deliver it and monitor it.89

60.Commissioner Dick and Chief Constable Thompson also made it clear that they wanted stronger national leadership on serious violence. Cressida Dick said that serious violence “needs to be more clearly a higher priority for parts of our public sector, stretched though they are, and probably parts of the Home Office, stretched though it is”.90 She added later: “We all agree that there needs to be more co-ordination, more step-up and more focus and priority” at Government and Cabinet level.91 Dave Thompson said that “there is a need for some transformational response to this”,92 and also pushed for Cabinet Office involvement (before the new Cabinet Office team was announced), highlighting that it can be “very hard sometimes for Ministers to hold other Ministers to account on a delivery issue that might be seen as confined more directly to their Department”.93

61.Both Dame Louise and the Children’s Commissioner emphasised the need for a clear understanding of the scale of the problem, and for local follow-through. According to Anne Longfield, “on every level”, the Government needs to “put the money in, ensure the leadership is there, and hold people accountable for delivering what they need to deliver on a departmental basis”. She added: “In each of those departmental areas, there needs to be a follow-down to local delivery”, and noted that “there are 11 different interventions around serious violence at the moment across Government, but they are largely departmental, fragmented and small scale”. As a result, “they just get dispersed and do not have the traction they could”. Similarly, Chief Constable Thompson implied that there was a lack of understanding at a national level about the complexity of local partnership work: he called for officials to be “deployed more on the ground [ … ] to ensure that Government is challenging itself on whether this connects at place level, because the players are much more complex than they were”.94

62.A recent report on Serious Organised Crime (SOC) by the National Audit Office (NAO) found that the Government “does not yet have the extent or depth of data that it needs for an effective response [to SOC], and data are not shared consistently”, with the result that “the government’s understanding of the scale of serious and organised crime is incomplete”. Performance measurement in SOC is also “immature and does not yet support effective decision-making”.95 In written evidence, the Local Government Association (LGA) highlighted that the Violence And Vulnerability Unit has created a useful data mapping tool, the ‘Vulnerability Tracker’, which can “help councils and other partners bring together all their data to focus on all forms of vulnerability”. This could be used more consistently across the country to measure progress and direct resources.96

63.When the Minister for Safeguarding gave evidence to us in May, we asked her a number of questions to establish the Government’s understanding of the scale of the problem, including data, and the amount of targeted action on the ground, including accountability and ownership at a regional or local level. She gave the impression that the Department had done minimal work to gather data: when we asked what her assessment was of the number of young people at particular risk of knife crime, for example, she replied “I don’t have that number”. On local action and accountability for reducing serious violence, she said that “in London, it is the Mayor”, and in other places it will be “for local areas to decide”.97

64.We gave the Minister another chance to demonstrate that the Government had a strong understanding of the scale of the problem and the most effective response. After the session, we wrote to her to ask a number of questions about funding, and asked for the Government’s estimate of the number of young people currently at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of serious youth violence, the number of people currently in contact with youth services, and how many the Government planned to reach as a result of its funding commitments (for example, through the £200m Youth Endowment Fund). She replied citing figures from the Children’s Commissioner on the number of children at risk of gang involvement, but asserted that “to group young people as ‘at risk’ or ‘not at risk’ risks oversimplifying the issue based simply on the presence of a risk factor or factors”. The Minister confirmed that figures on the number of young people using youth services are “not readily available”, and gave us estimates of the number of children reached by a number of different schemes, such as the National Citizen Service and projects financed by the Early Intervention Youth Fund.98

Our previous recommendations on policing governance and leadership

65.In October 2018, we published a report entitled “Policing for the Future”, concluding a 20-month inquiry into the current policing landscape. We examined the extent to which the police service in England and Wales has the skills, structures and resources in place to enable it to meet the challenges of the 21st century, from dealing with ‘traditional’ volume offences through to the vast growth in digital crime. One of the key themes emerging from the evidence was the lack of central direction in policing policy, following reforms implemented by Theresa May as Home Secretary from 2010 onwards. These included the devolution of power to Police and Crime Commissioners and a reduced role for the Home Office in determining policing priorities and policy-making. We concluded that this hands-off approach has affected the Government and police service’s response to a wide range of challenges, including tackling serious organised crime, upgrading ICT and communications systems, coordinating online fraud investigation, working with global social media companies, and agreeing on data-sharing protocols with other public services.99

66.Our report argued that the Home Office “must step up to the plate and play a much stronger role in policing policy”. We also argued that “the current allocation of responsibilities in policing at a national, regional and local level is broken, and in dire need of review”, adding that “the current structure is a significant barrier to the service’s ability to tackle national and transnational threats, which require an advanced level of specialist capability”. To address these problems, we recommended that:

67.In the Home Office’s response, published in March, the Department conceded that “the Home Office must take a more forward-leaning approach to its engagement with policing”.101 It said that in the last year, it had “convened roundtables” which are making “real progress” on the service’s use of technology, officer wellbeing and serious violence, “to name a few”. It argued that new structures would “take a significant amount of time” to set up, but that, “within the current structure, a great deal more could be done to operate the network in a better, more efficient and effective way”. The Department added that it is “working with all players in the system to embed the operation of a network through the Specialist Capabilities Programme, ROCUs [regional organised crime units], the SOC [Serious and Organised Crime] Strategy, force collaboration and other work”.

68.Our 2018 report, “Policing for the Future”, argued that the Home Office must step up to the plate and play a much stronger role in policing policy, highlighting the many weaknesses created by a fragmented approach to governance and decision-making. This chapter has laid bare the weaknesses of the Government’s response to serious youth violence, including the lack of national or regional ownership of the problem.

69.The Home Office’s response to serious youth violence appears to have been limited to the production of a limited strategy and the convening of a few roundtable discussions. The Department’s approach is not fit for the task at hand, and its lack of national leadership on this issue is evidence beyond doubt of the need for a change in direction. It would be supremely irresponsible for the Government simply to leave it to 43 PCCs and 43 chief constables to determine their own local response to this national crisis.

70.Following the Prime Minister’s summit in April, the establishment of a Ministerial Taskforce on Serious Violence is welcome, along with the Cabinet Office team due to support its work. Although this should have been in place years ago, it does suggest that the Government is finally taking this issue more seriously. We are concerned, however, that any momentum generated by the PM’s summit is being lost, and we are not convinced that the Prime Minister and Home Secretary are treating serious violence with the urgency and focus it requires, ensuring that the Prime Minister’s Taskforce has the resources it needs in order to function effectively and target resources in the right places. We recommend that the new Prime Minister takes personal responsibility for reducing serious youth violence and driving activity in this area, tasking Cabinet Ministers with taking ownership for key actions.

71.We are also concerned by the absence of local or regional accountability for reducing serious youth violence, in the context of a complex network of local stakeholders in policing, local government, education and civil society. We fail to see how the Government can get a grip on this problem without clear lines of communication and accountability for progress on the ground. By the end of September, the Government should provide us with a list of named accountable leaders in every region or county of England and Wales. This might be a PCC, a mayor, or the leader of a local safeguarding partnership or violence reduction unit, for example. They must be identifiable locally as the individual reporting directly to 10 Downing Street, and responsible for convening those who need to work together to drive down serious youth violence.

72.Ministers have spoken repeatedly of the need to take a ‘public health’ approach to serious violence. It is extremely difficult to target public health interventions without an understanding of the size of the population at risk, and yet the Government has not identified the number of children at risk of involvement in serious youth violence, pointing only to inadequate and readily-available sources of data on crime and safeguarding. A recent National Audit Office report also found that the Government does not yet have the data it needs on serious and organised crime to coordinate an effective response.

73.The Ministerial Taskforce and the Serious Violence Taskforce should be monitoring progress across a common dataset, collected consistently across the country. That data should also be driving and informing local action to tackle serious youth violence, led by the regional or local leads. We recommend that the new Cabinet Office team prioritises the establishment of such a dataset at the earliest opportunity, and reports back to us on its progress by the end of October 2019. It should also inform us what targets or milestones the Government has set in relation to reducing serious youth violence, and by what date it intends to meet those targets.

63 BBC News, Knife crime: Ex-minister wants it treated with urgency of terrorism, 5 March 2019

66 HC Oral Questions to the Prime Minister, Vol 655 Col 950, 6 March 2019

68 HC Spring Statement, Volume 656, 13 March 2016

69 HM Government, Serious Violence Strategy, April 2018

70 Letter from the Home Secretary to the Chair of the Committee (and associated Annexes), 1 May 2019

71 HM Government, Serious Violence Strategy, April 2018

77 Violence Reduction Unit website, About the Violence Reduction Unit, accessed 2 October 2018

78 Violence Reduction Unit website, About the Violence Reduction Unit, accessed 2 October 2018

83 The Youth Violence Commission, Interim Report, July 2018

84 HM Government, Serious Violence Strategy, April 2018

95 National Audit Office, Tackling serious and organised crime (HC2219), 28 June 2019

96 Local Government Association (SVC0051)

98 Home Office (SVC0058)

99 Home Affairs Committee, Policing for the future (HC 515), 25 October 2018

100 Home Affairs Committee, Policing for the future (HC 515), 25 October 2018

101 The Government response to the Tenth Report from the Home Affairs Select Committee Session 2017–19 HC 515: Policing for the future (CP62), 15 March 2019

Published: 31 July 2019