I am grateful for the opportunity to make a short contribution to this debate. There have been excellent speeches from many Members, but I wish to pay a particular special tribute to my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft for her moving and thought-provoking speech, for her work in speaking out about the rise in knife crime, and for subsequently establishing and chairing the Youth Violence Commission, which has been crucial in looking into ways in which not only the Government but all areas of society can help to tackle knife crime and youth violence.
I appreciate that the focus today may be on serious violence in the major cities, but I wish to put on record what is happening in Gwent, and particularly in Newport, as sadly none of our communities are immune from serious violence. It affects us all. We are also seeing the emergence of county lines as a serious threat, and an increase in the level of serious violence that comes with that. Drug markets generate violence and a crime hierarchy, with our most vulnerable young people groomed to enter the lower levels of drug distribution.
I am grateful to be able to say that in my constituency knife crime may not be as big an issue as it is elsewhere, but serious and organised crime, and its association with violence, has to be approached as a priority. The Minister for Security and Economic Crime will be aware of some of the fantastic prevention and response work that is happening in Gwent, as he spoke at the launch of the serious and organised crime strategy at the Celtic Manor in Newport last week. I praise Gwent police and Chief Constable Julian Williams for their successes in bringing criminals to justice and taking drugs off our streets. They have dismantled a number of organised crime groups in the past six months and made 163 serious organised crime arrests, and they have seized about £600,000, 50 high-value vehicles and hundreds of kilos of class A and B drugs.
As we all know, we need to keep on our guard and invest in our young people. As our police and crime commissioner, Jeff Cuthbert, said last week, serious and organised crime affects all communities across Wales and no single agency can resolve the problem alone, as we have talked much about today. That is why, in Gwent, partnership work has been so important. Dismantling crime groups has been backed up by a multi-agency approach to identify and work with vulnerable individuals at risk of criminality and violence, which is a need that the Youth Violence Commission and yesterday’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee report have identified. The Home Office has funded the post of serious and organised crime co-ordinator—one of only five in the country—which will have an impact on the tackling of serious violence as well as organised crime.
Gwent police is currently working in partnership with Newport Council, Barnado’s, Newport Live, St Giles, Crimestoppers, MutualGain and the Welsh Government on prevention, intervention and community resilience. What does that mean in practice? It means that sessions have been delivered to more than 5,400 pupils in all of our Newport schools on county lines, gangs and violence, with follow-up advice encouraging people to report their concerns. There has been intensive training for youth workers, social workers, teachers, housing officers and many more. Police and local authorities are working closely together to identify those children most at risk, with early intervention work by Barnado’s, Families First and St Giles.
A large range of diversionary activities are going on through the Newport Live Positive Futures programme. Its evening sport sessions—we talked a lot about sport today—are in the right place and at the right time of the evening. They are hugely successful, with more than 20 sessions running a week in Newport alone. Some attract up to 70 young people in a session. The programme also takes referrals for one-to-one mentoring and personal development, again using sport and physical activity as a hook. They have seen young people, through sport, gain qualifications and go on to further education. The scheme is working to divert young people from a path that could lead to violence and crime.
There is a huge amount going on. I wish to put on record my thanks to all those involved in the work in my community. It is partnership work at its best. This is new work, but we are already beginning to see individuals that it has helped. Lives are changing as young people are being helped to avoid a life of crime.
There is great expectation that this early intervention work will be an investment in young people’s futures and in preventing crime and violence. Although I am proud to be able to highlight this work today, there is still the reality that we talked about earlier—that partnership working requires time, staff and resources from each and every agency involved. With these strategies in place, I hope the Government will consider the potential of just what could be achieved if the backdrop to this were not thousands of officers being cut from the police and councils having to lose thousands of staff. The point has been well made today about the lack of youth provision and the fact that crucial statutory and non-statutory services are at breaking point. With significant investment in the police and local authorities, preventative action could be one of the answers to much of the youth crime and violence that we see.
We need the urgency and determination that my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper spoke about earlier on, and we hope to see more action from the Government.