Q We will now hear from Councillor Nesil Caliskan, chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board; David Lloyd, Police and Crime Commissioner for Hertfordshire and criminal justice lead for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners; and Alison Hernandez, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, and roads policing lead for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. We have until 4.15 for this session. Would the witnesses introduce themselves for the record, please?
I am Alison Hernandez, the national lead for roads policing and safety on behalf of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, and I was recently re-elected the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly. I am here particularly to give the voice of the public on some of the areas in the Bill, and in our role as a scrutineer of policing.
Q Over recent years, we have seen more demonstrations in cities. Could the panel give me their views about that, and how intimidating it can be to local communities—people who want to live their everyday lives? Do you agree that a balance has to be struck between people who want to demonstrate peacefully and other people who do these prolonged demonstrations? I would value your opinion.
I think you make a really good point. Demonstrations are frustrating, especially when they put other people’s livelihoods at risk. Certainly, in Hertfordshire, we had an Extinction Rebellion demonstration that really put free speech at risk by closing down the printing press in Broxbourne, which my friend, the other Chair of the Committee, Sir Charles, will know all about. Certainly, it was difficult to balance the right to demonstrate against the right to free speech.
I think that the strengthening in this Bill is very helpful, although in that specific demonstration the issue was not so much whether the protesters could be arrested, but how they could be arrested, because of the way they had got themselves in some very clever holes so that you could not unpick them. However, I think we really do need to think about the broader population when people are demonstrating, rather than just the rights of the demonstrators.
As you will know, it does not matter which police area the protests occur in; there is a reflection upon police forces nationally from communities thinking, “It is happening where we are, where we live.” There is sheer frustration about some of the disruption that has happened. One of the key factors for us is that it is about being proactive with people who want to run peaceful protests. Our police force in particular has been very good at doing that. As you may be aware, we have the G7 summit coming to us in June in Cornwall, so we are very sensitive, to a heightened extent, about this particular area, and we want to facilitate peaceful protest.
I think these measures in the Bill are needed. Anything that gives the police a tool that ensures public confidence in policing and shows that mob rule does not rule is really important. It really is reflected in public confidence that our police force is on the side of those who are on the right side of the law.
I think it is important to differentiate between protest and the opportunity for the public to come together for things like a vigil. That is obviously—[Inaudible]—the very tragic death of Sarah Everard, for instance.
And we must also differentiate between a one-day vigil or protest and something that is over a longer period of time. In my experience, from having spoken to council leaders from across the country, the best way that peaceful protest is facilitated is planning in advance. That means the community and organisers having a good relationship with the police, and local forces working closely with local authorities ,so that you know when gatherings will take place, how you can put measures in place to support them to express their views and do so in a safe way. Differentiating between short-term gatherings and long-term gatherings is important.
Q My first questions are to the councillor. We might need to follow up in writing—I am a bit deaf, I am afraid. I am very aware of the multi-agency work that happens between local authorities and the police, but I am also aware of the unequal distribution of resources to do that sort of work, with local authorities often having their statutory duty, meaning that they have to pick up the brunt of the work without necessarily additional resources coming their way. Are there things in the Bill that give you and your members concern with regard to the resource implications for local authorities?
The first thing to say is that the Local Government Association broadly welcomes the Bill. We recognise its intentions for victims of crime and to support communities. However, there are aspects of the Bill, for instance, the offensive weapon homicide reviews, that I referred to, that lack clarity on the implications for resources, and why they are necessary, given that other reviews take place that could probably cover some of the issues. Reviews take place when you want to learn from an incident. It is unclear what the outcome of an offensive weapon homicide review would be and what learning would be achieved from that.
On the broader point about resources and support, local government have been under incredible pressure in funding youth offending services for several years. We know that youth services have seen a cut in their budgets. Youth offending services primarily have two functions: to stop reoffending, and to stop offending in the first place. The second function is not a statutory responsibility, and it is up to local authorities and partners, such as the police and NHS, to be willing to put in resources to stop offending in the first place. The early intervention and prevention aspect of things will be critical if the intention of the Bill to reduce crime over a long period of time is serious. Alongside the statutory responsibilities that the Bill sets out, the LGA’s view is that it is critical that there are adequate resources to be able to intervene with preventive measures at an earlier stage.
Q That is very interesting, thank you. Alison, I have a particular interest in road safety because I have a smart motorway running through my patch. That is not covered in the Bill and—I have looked—I cannot see scope for getting it into the Bill. From a road safety perspective, are there other areas that we could add to the Bill that would make a difference?
There are a few bits in the areas we have been looking at. One area that is particularly of public interest is around the level of offending on our roads from poor driver behaviour generally. There is an absolute appetite from the public—we carried out a survey about 18 months ago on road safety through the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and over 66,000 people responded. It was absolutely clear that people witness offending behaviour on the roads where they live for about 70% of the time. So there is an appetite for more enforcement and for the fines levels, and that is in the Bill around delivering courses for some of those driver behaviours, which I think is really great. We are interested in seeing another area, which would be a levelling up of the fines for some of those offences. They are all different, whether for speeding, using a mobile phone, or not wearing a seat belt. The fines are all at different levels. Our suggestion is: why don’t you level up the fines, then you also have an opportunity to spend more funding on road safety?
On unauthorised encampments, I am sure all the MPs in the room receive a mixed bag of correspondence on this issue.Q
I am very interested in this issue and there are two parts to my question. First, do you think that the existing powers under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 are sufficient to address the issues that arise from unauthorised encampments for communities that are affected? If not, do you think that this Bill goes some way to fill any gaps that have been identified and raised by a number of different groups?
Separately, regarding local authorities, I think it is little-known that local authorities are actually required to find space for Travellers’ sites, transit sites and authorised encampments. Do you have examples of local authority areas that are doing that alongside communities and the police, and it is working well? And what more can local authorities do?
There are a few things, actually. Some of the existing arrangements under the legislation that you mentioned are quite strong, but there is a resistance—a nervousness—among police actually to deliver on them, and I think that having a very clear criminal offence makes it a lot easier for the police to act.
At the moment, if you look through the National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance on how to deal with unauthorised encampments, it refers to a number of elements that must be met before the police take some action. This change actually enables the police to make that decision much more easily and more simply, so we really support the change to the way that we are looking at this issue.
I want to be clear that right now, as we speak, I have two unauthorised encampments, one in each county: one in Truro; one in Cranbrook. And these encampments are really affecting our communities’ confidence, by allowing people to break the law and cause damage. Actually, our communities are taking extreme measures to try to stop these unauthorised encampments from happening. This is not about being against people who have an alternative lifestyle; having such a lifestyle is absolutely fine. But when they impact on the communities’ amenity and actually cost the community money to clear up and solve issues, this offence helps to make it really clear that we do not want to see that situation in our communities.
I will just add that the sort of extreme measures that I have witnessed here in my area of Devon and Cornwall include a local council spending £18,500 on metal gates with locks to stop people from accessing pieces of land, which people have still broken into and accessed. The council have now built a concrete wall to stop those people, but it is also stopping local communities from using that land, too, because the council do not want to spend more money to clear up the land afterwards. So there is a challenge about sites—absolutely—for local authorities to consider, but I think this offence makes it clear for policing that there needs to be action.
The issue is experienced by local authorities up and down the country to different extents. I think it is true to say that there is disruption and that it can cost local authorities resources and funds. It is also true to say that across the country our Gypsy and Traveller communities are badly served in terms of sites that are allocated through planning policy, and it does not help when local plans take a number of years to agree things for them. So, even when there is a clear commitment to find additional sites, it can take years to identify those sites in planning policy. It is partly a planning policy issue and it is partly, I think, a lack of commitment to be able to find adequate space for our Traveller communities.
However, I have to say that the best example of existing local government being able to accommodate Traveller communities is when local authorities proactively build relationships, and while the Bill clearly sets out a way forward to be able to deal with the issues from an enforcement perspective, that is only a part of the picture. The LGA’s view would be that alongside that there needs to be a genuine commitment to accommodate communities, to have adequate spaces and to support those communities in additional things that they might need, such as health provision. Over the past year, there have been good examples of local authorities appointing community liaison individuals just for Traveller communities to be vaccinated, for instance. It costs local authorities resources, but there is a bigger picture that has to be considered.
I think first of all we have got to start to look at how we can work together across the public sector, and I do not think that we are good enough at that. Very often, the first thing that happens is that the police are called to move on rather than thinking about what the issue is in the first place. Certainly, when I was first elected to a local council back in 1992, we had issues with Travellers and unauthorised encampments. If we had started then with a policy of ensuring that every single borough and district council had sufficient provision for those who may pass through, so that then, when there were unauthorised encampments, they could be moved on to those places, I do not think that anyone would feel that there was a problem in doing that. The issue is when there is no other place reasonable for them to go that is within close proximity. I do not think the duty of the districts and boroughs in two-tier areas and local councils in other areas is enforced sufficiently.
We always have to think about what it is that victims of all crimes and members of the public think most of all. One of the things that concerns people most of all is when there is an encampment—very often, it happens around a bank holiday weekend—and it seems that nothing can be done. I think that the strengthening powers within this will be helpful but that does not, in the long term, help with the real problem, which is: is there sufficient provision? We have got to do something alongside that.
In this discussion, along with the earlier question where Sarah Champion asked “What about budgets?”, we have to find a better way in local government—and I am proudly a part of local government as a police and crime commissioner—to share all of our budgets and we have to find a better way to plan together. Because one of the problems is that the issue of unauthorised encampment is always pushed to someone else as their problem, rather than any one of us picking it up as our problem. We have got to find a way through that.
The Bill introduces offensive weapons homicide reviews. What do you see as a rationale for holding only reviews where offensive weapons are involved? Why is the focus on this type of weapon and is there not a danger that those who have lost loved ones to other causes or other methods will feel that their loss is less valuable than others? That is to anyone who wishes to answer that. I think we will start with Councillor Caliskan, please. [Interruption.]
My understanding of the Bill—you will understand it better than me, probably—is that it does not get rid of other homicide reviews. Of course, the one that probably you and all of us are familiar with is the domestic homicide review, which is always very helpful, and we all learn a great deal across all agencies around that when that happens. I think this builds on that and that is reasonable.
One of the areas of focus at the moment is around serious violence. I think it not unreasonable, therefore, that we take a little bit more time and we have a little bit more evidence around what has gone wrong. I am a real believer in evidence-based policing, and we have to look at that really closely. I am very much in favour of that. It is going to be, remember, an 18-month pilot. If that brings about initiatives to prevent homicides and protect communities, I think that is a very good idea.
Hopefully you can hear me now. I agree with what David said about the pilots, and it will be interesting to see the outcomes. The direct comparison is to domestic violence homicide reviews, where there can be very clear learning; and being able to learn, as a system of multiple agencies, where you might have been able to intervene earlier to stop something helps us to reduce crime in the future.
The issue with offensive weapons homicide reviews is that the evidence shows that somebody with an offensive weapon may not necessarily know their victim. You can take knife crime, for example, and compare it with domestic violence. In most cases of domestic violence, the victim and the perpetrator would know each other; that is not necessarily the case—in fact, most often is not the case—when it comes to knife crime.
I think it will be interesting to see the outcome of the pilots, but we have to be careful that we are not just creating additional burdens on agencies and that we have clear criteria and pathways for learning. Also, who will be the owner of the outcomes? Who will be responsible for being able to implement some of those lessons learned? I think that level of detail is probably missing from the Bill, so I wait to see the outcome of the pilots.
One of the challenges around domestic homicide reviews is the lengthy delay from, obviously, when the incident happened to when the review is completed. Often, the challenge we have is that people have moved on and some of the corporate learning from it is not actually kept well within the organisation. So I think that that accountability around this trial would be really helpful, to be clear. There are opportunities around things like local criminal justice boards and there are opportunities through police and crime commissioners of actually holding on to this as part of something that we have to report on. So I think it would be good to look at that accountability to make sure it does not become a paper exercise and is not really utilised in decision making.
Q I have just one question, about youth remand. I want to ask what assessments people have made about the remand to local authority accommodation for children and, in particular, for Councillor Caliskan, what constraints she feels that she or her authority has in offering such accommodation.
The burden of finding alternative accommodation is really about the fact that you are competing. You are competing because you may have victims of domestic violence that the local authority also needs to find accommodation for. So it is about limited resources. It does happen already: they will be rare occasions, but there may be examples where a young person needs to be relocated because they may have been involved in county lines or gang activity. But it is not simple and it is not just about relocating that individual—
Hopefully you can hear me a bit clearer. The other point I was going to make is that it is not as simple as just relocating an individual. It is often a family that you have to relocate, and there are additional processes associated with that. Examples of issues are employment for the parents and the tenure of accommodation. If they own their own property, relocating them becomes more complicated. The picture is complicated, as you might expect. This is possible; local authorities do do it, but it takes multi-agency working and it requires a real bespoke approach depending on the individual and the family that you are trying to support.
All I would add—I am sure Members will be very much familiar with this—is that probably the vast majority of our criminals are under the age of 25 and a huge number of them are under 18. In Hertfordshire a couple of years ago, three quarters of our murders—we have very few—were committed by people under the age of 18. So in many ways we need to get how people are being remanded right. There are greater rights that children would rightly expect and have, but that does not mean to say that some of our most serious criminals are not children. Getting that balance right is difficult.
If I might add, there are good examples throughout the country where youth offender services are intervening at an early stage that not only supports individuals not to reoffend but provides a family approach, supporting siblings who may be at risk of being involved in criminal behaviour. That early intervention makes a real difference, so as local government we would look to see how such public health approach-led practice could be rolled out more consistently across the country.
Just one point in relation to youth remand. The challenge in helping young people and getting that right is the gap between arrest and conviction. With the courts backlog there is at the moment, that can be a long gap, and one of the challenges is that sometimes you cannot work with that young person until they get to the point of conviction. I just wanted to flag that up, but that is more about charge to conviction than remand and awaiting.
Q It is a quick follow-up to the points on illegal occupation of land. We see a situation where Travellers purchase land and then occupy it—they obviously do not plan to travel a great deal more—and it becomes a planning issue rather than one of trespass and occupation. I cannot see anything in the Bill that would address that. I know that the planning process can be protracted. Could more be done in that area? Perhaps Mr Lloyd might comment.
I feared that you were going to say that. I am not convinced that anything can easily be done. Clearly, on private land, there is a planning process, but it is private land, and that is difficult. I think you are talking specifically about where someone has purchased land and invited people in, and they may well have inappropriately developed that land so that there is a site built there. It is very difficult to know how to deal with that. I certainly have not got the answer. You may well have an answer among you, but how you get the planning process to discriminate, if you like, in a positive way against that which is clearly not right and for that which is right will be difficult.
Q I know all three of you are incredibly busy doing very important jobs, so thank you for giving us the time today. I want to talk about the duty to tackle serious violence and the view in the consultation among some people in the police and local government that it was perhaps better to go down the route of enhancing and building on community safety partnerships, as opposed to this new layer of multi-agency collaboration. Obviously there is not one way that works better than any of the others, but can you talk through some of the challenges of how you get organisations to work together? We envisage a public health approach to tackling serious violence, where everybody comes together to look at the evidence and what the violence issues are in the area and works out ways to prevent them. Any one of you can go first.
Can I come in first on that and perhaps also bring in another bit? One of my concerns about the Bill is that it does not go far enough; in fact, it does not really mention how we might use police and crime commissioners more. My concern has always been very much about trying to be at the centre of the criminal justice system and how we bring that together with someone who is a focus for that on a local basis.
One of the benefits of police and crime commissioners has been their ability to bring different parts of the criminal justice system together, along with local authorities, so that we can better ensure that we reduce violence and crime, that the lessons are properly learned and that we put support for victims and perpetrators in the right place. I think it is perfectly reasonable to establish the situation as we are doing it, but we need to go further. One tends never to talk about what is not in a Bill, but the big thing this misses, as far as I am concerned, is how you put PCCs at the very heart of the criminal justice system.
Frankly, with extra duties falling to police, more people will be arrested, and they will end up in a queue going to court which is getting ever longer. Until you have got someone who is able to break through that long queue to get to court, none of this will really work. That is a crisis that we need to solve, and I think we have a solution in trying to give more power to police and crime commissioners. That might be a discussion for another day, but it is something we really need to focus on.
I think the LGA would highlight that a prevention-first approach is a long-term, sustainable approach to deal with crime in our communities. We absolutely support collaboration and a multi-agency working approach, because it works. The evidence demonstrates that it works, and the best and most successful outcomes demonstrate that. Take the violence reduction units, for example; there are very good examples of that.
There are not violence reduction units everywhere, so there is this inconsistency. They were, as I understand it, first established based on the areas where there were high levels of knife crime. Now, whether that should be the criteria going forward is a matter for debate, but I would emphasise again that the long-term statutory responsibility is suitable and that the multi-agency approach is properly resourced to be able to deliver those early interventions.
The community safety partnerships are really welcome as well. Again, there are some good examples of them. I guess that the benefit of community safety partnerships is that local communities can decide what the issues are. That gives communities agency, and it allows different organisations to come together to have ownership of the problem.
We at the LGA would ask for there to be more consistency. For that, we should see violence reduction units extended and offered in more areas, and there should be a more sustainable funding model. If we are serious about seeing a reduction in crime, we have to have models that move away from just one-off grant funding or one-year grant funding, to five-year periods of funding, so that there can be long-term projects.
If I may say, I get a bit frustrated with the conversation about funding, because it is not all about having funding from the Government. I absolutely applaud the serious violence duty. One of the challenges that we all recognise is that, generally, society is getting more violent. This isn’t, “Who has got the most violence in their area?” We have a general societal problem, which every area needs to be looking at, focusing on and tackling.
In Devon and Cornwall, we are not one of the areas that received the violence reduction unit funding, so the chief constable and I have come together in a partnership to establish a serious violence prevention programme. We are funding that through council tax payers’ funding, because we believe that it is fundamentally important that we make this a priority. So you can do it yourselves if you think it is important. The serious violence duty will help people to see that this must be prioritised to be tackled. We want to do prevention; we do not want to deal with the things in the Bill that are just about enforcement and the hard end of it. We are able to look at that early intervention and prevention.
Many Members will have heard of things such as Operation Encompass, which is throughout the country in all 43 police forces, to try to help children who are at the receiving end of domestic abuse. In that sort of thing, we are trying to help children as young as possible, to break that cycle of violence. We fundamentally know that domestic abuse is one of the key issues that, if not tackled at a young age, leads to more violence in later life. I am an absolute supporter of the serious violence duty. We have things within our own powers, as commissioners with our local authorities, to set the priorities to tackle that.
Q Okay. Nesil, we have sort of had this conversation already about unauthorised encampments. The view from the police organisations that gave evidence today, and others I have spoken to, is that the existing legislation is sufficient; what is insufficient is the provision of sites for people, and you cannot enforce without there being places for people to go. The number of permanent sites has gone down over the last few years. What needs to happen to ensure that local authorities can increase the number of permanent pitches for Gypsies and Travellers in their area?
I think you are right. There is no point talking about just enforcement if you want to see community cohesion. Enforcement alone does not allow for Gypsies and Traveller communities to have their place in our community when they want it. It is the nature of their protected characteristics.
What needs to happen? There was a question mark over the efficiency of—[Inaudible]—policy. There has to be a commitment from local authorities that those sites are allocated. The statutory legislation that already exists for these protected characteristics needs to be taken seriously. We should be meeting the obligations that are already set in statute, which says that we should have adequate sites for these communities, but we just do not.
I would like to give parliamentarians some reassurance that the LGA absolutely takes tackling crime seriously. That is why councils up and down the country fund multi-agency working. We take it really seriously—it is a priority, because residents tell us that they want to be safe. We also recognise that crime is a symptom of what is often a complicated socioeconomic issue. If we want to collectively be serious about tackling crime, we have to tackle it at every stage, which means talking about prevention and—[Inaudible.]
Q On the subject of unauthorised encampments, can you give us any insight about the harms and costs caused by unauthorised encampments in your local areas?
We are not talking about the travelling community. We are talking about a minority of people. I have examples in Exeter city where the local authority created a very nice site so that we could admit them quicker from where they were. It had everything that they needed and the facilities that they wanted, and it was in a nice, secluded spot. When the police went in to evict them, they decided not to go to that site that was available to them. They wanted to go to the next game that they wanted to play. Let’s be really clear about this: we are talking about a minority of people who do not want to abide by the law of this country. I believe we need this offence to support our communities and to send a very strong message: you do not do this type of behaviour.
I mentioned the £18,500 metal fencing created at Drumbridges roundabout to stop them accessing that land. They broke into that land. I have communities who will tell me that they have spotters who go ahead to break open the gates, so they will use the excuse that the gates were already open. All these sorts of things are happening. I have asked about CCTV—can we put it on the main sites where we have these things happening? It cannot be done, because of human rights—because it is where someone is living. Every place you turn to as a community to try to solve this problem is not available.
For me, harms are being caused. On Dartmoor alone, when they had an unauthorised encampment, it became absolutely huge. When these things get so huge, no one can move them on, because the amount of resource required to do so is immense. The bailiffs were going to cost £50,000 a day, and they would still need police back-up in order to do it. The cost is absolutely huge. There is something about sending a message through this Bill which tells the public that we are on their side and that we do not support people who do not want to abide by the law.
I entirely agree with that. In Welwyn Garden City, we have a person who has almost been driven to the verge of bankruptcy because there was an unauthorised encampment which decided, at the same time, to take on industrial-level fly-tipping. It would cost about £150,000 to move those materials. That originally happened 18 months or two years ago. It is still there among all the woodland.
These people are at the end of their tether. The cost is not just monetary. I have people calling me who really are frightened because they have had large numbers of people on their own land and they feel intimidated and personally threatened. We need to do something about it. Much of it is about sending a message.
While I recognise that it is not helped, as I said earlier, by the fact that local authorities do not provide sufficient spots for Travellers to move on to—I recognise that is something we need to do—we also need to send a message that these people can be moved on if they are in an unauthorised place. We need to send that message out again, as Alison has said far more ably than me, so that the public recognise that we are on their side and we are on the side of the underdog.
All I would add is that I recognise that there are strongly held views, and we have councils who articulate exactly what colleagues on this panel have spoken about. It can be a huge cost to a local authority.
The best way to deal with these issues is through a collaborative approach, not just through agencies in a particular area, but also with the communities themselves who may be occupying the space. Something has got to give at some point, and an obvious solution is trying to identify space. Local authorities absolutely do not want to be encouraging criminality and disruption, not least because it costs a lot of money, but we could be going round and round in circles unless we find a long-term solution. I recognise that the Bill is an attempt to do that. All I would say is that in order for there to be a collaborative approach, alongside that there needs to be an approach that is about dialogue with communities, too. I do not think that contradicts anything that other panel members have said.
Just to assist the Committee, clause 61 focuses on the conditions whereby this offence can be committed. The phrases “significant damage”, “significant disruption” and “significant distress” appear to cover the descriptions given by Commissioner Hernandez and Commissioner Lloyd.
On the serious violence duty, where the Government are requiring local agencies to work together to draw together plans to tackle serious violence in their local areas, I am happy to reassure Commissioner Lloyd that clause 13 very much views police and crime commissioners and mayors with policing powers as having a convening role in that. What value do you think will be gained in your local areas from requiring these organisations—vital as they are, in their many ways, in tackling the serious violence that we hope to prevent—to get around a table and work together with schools and educational establishments, in particular, to ensure that we prevent serious violence?
Things that are asked for specifically and are required of us get done. This measure strengthens what many of us are already putting into our own police and crime plans. It is always better to place a duty on us, because that ensures that it gets done. We really do need to ensure that the scourge of serious violence is reduced. There are many parts of the country—thankfully not Hertfordshire—where this is out of control, and this measure will help.
Order. We will stop, because we are out of time. I am sorry, Councillor Caliskan, but we have a very tight schedule today. I thank the witnesses for their evidence, and I thank Councillor Caliskan for persevering with some of the sound problems.