Debate on the Serious Violence Strategy

On 22nd May during a debate on the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy I raised issues of austerity, cuts to the police and local authorities, cuts to the Border Force and the issue of serious organised crime and drugs with Home Office Ministers. I said:

Am I really supposed to believe that if 50 or 60 white middle-class young people were killed in Surrey or Kent in space of five months, we would just have an “awareness-raising communication activity”?

It is also important to say that this debate must, as it already has done, quite properly land on the issue of whether in fact black lives matter in this country.

The central issue, about which we hear so little and which the strategy does not really deal with in depth—we did not hear enough on it from the Minister when he was at the Dispatch Box, either—is the work of the Home Office and the National Crime Agency on serious organised crime and serious gangsters. According to the EU’s drugs agency, this country is the drugs capital of Europe.

The UN has said that the global drugs market is thriving and London is the capital of the cocaine market in Europe. Some 30 tonnes of cocaine come into our country every year. Our illegal drugs market is worth at least £5.3 billion. The National Crime Agency says that drugs trafficking costs our country £11 billion per year.

The Government strategy recognises the following fact:

“Serious violence, drugs and profits are closely linked. Violence can be used as a way of maintaining and increasing profits within the drugs markets.”

The Government’s own strategy tells us that the share of homicides that are explicitly linked to drugs stands at 57%, yet, again, there is nothing new here on organised crime.

I have been passed a document by the Metropolitan police showing that half of the homicides that we saw in the capital last year were linked directly to gang activities and turf wars, but we are hearing very little about breaking that cycle—that cycle of protect and serve to sell drugs—and the myriad organisations that sit well above the youth crime on the ground.

Let me put this bluntly. Very, very sadly, because of poverty and a lot of the issues in many of our constituencies, recruiting young people is much easier than it should be. We have to cut off the demand for the drugs that they are selling and the violence that it is driving in communities such as mine.

This document is not a strategy; it is a wish list full of jargon. It is not sufficient—not even close. Let us look at the key actions and commitments. They include to undertake “nationwide awareness-raising communication activity” and provide £175,000 to deliver support to children at risk in schools and pupil referral units. The Home Office is apparently to provide £1 million to help communities tackle knife crime and provide £500,000 for a new round of heroin and crack action areas.

Am I really supposed to believe that if 50 or 60 white middle-class young people were killed in Surrey or Kent in space of five months, we would just have an “awareness-raising communication activity”?

If innocent children were being gunned down on the streets of Richmond or Guildford, would we have a £175,000 fund to deliver support to at-risk children? A person cannot buy a house in London for £175,000, and that is what we are spending on at-risk children. Really?

It is not good enough. Of course Ministers have been quick to celebrate the £11 million early intervention youth fund, but what will that fund deliver when in my ​borough alone—the London borough of Haringey—the local authority has had to cut £160 million since 2010, when funding has fallen by almost 50%, and when there has been a 45% cut in staff? Unison has calculated that youth services have been cut by almost half. Will that £11 million meet the gap? Really? The Mayor is putting in a fund of £40 million, but that will not meet the gap and, going back to what I said originally, it gets us nowhere near the extra-curricular activities that some young people in our country who go to certain schools get, when the poorest young people who need as much, if not more, are getting less.

Home Office’s own data shows that at least 1 million people in this country have taken cocaine in the past year, so there is a seriously lucrative market. If there is a lucrative market worth billions every year, that is worth fighting, so why are we not hearing more about cutting off these gangs at source and stopping the flow of drugs and firearms into our country? Why has the Border Force been cut by 25%? How is the Border Force to deal with the drugs coming into our country if there are not the personnel to do it? I have been to the National Crime Agency and had briefings from senior officers. They are being asked to do more with less. They are being asked to deal with cyber-crime; they are being asked to deal with terrorism; and they are being asked to deal with child sexual exploitation and many other issues.

In the serious violence strategy, there are no new announcements on organised crime. In the summary on the Government’s website, there is no mention of organised crime. In the four themes of the serious violence strategy, there is no mention of organised crime. When we read the strategy, we find out that, apparently, there is “ongoing” work to tackle serious and organised crime, thanks to the 2017 drugs strategy that has promised to “restrict supply” by criminal gangs, “disrupt domestic drugs markets”,

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