Councils warn against cuts to youth offending teams amid spate of knife crime

Councils have urged the Government to protect youth offending teams amid the surge in knife crime Credit: Alan Simpson/PA

Councils have warned the Government against making further funding cuts to youth offending teams as knife crime continues to come under the spotlight.

Efforts to stop children joining gangs and becoming involved in violent crime will be “undermined” if funding to tackle youth offending is cut further, the Local Government Association (LGA) said.

Figures show that youth justice grants, which fund the work of youth offending teams within councils, have been halved from £145 million in 2010/11 to £71.5 million in 2018/19, the LGA added.

The warning comes amid a string of high-profile stabbings across the country which have led to the issue being described as a “national emergency”.

The LGA said councils were waiting to find out how much funding they would receive for 2019/20, but said “at the very least” it should match last year’s amount following the recent surge in knife crime.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, chairwoman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “The recent spate of tragic violence across the country underlines the importance of investing in services which protect and support young people, keeping them safe from the lure of gangs or from becoming involved in serious crime.

“Youth offending teams within local authorities have an outstanding record of reducing youth crime and making a real difference to young people’s lives, but they are under huge pressure after seeing their government funding halved.

“We share the Government’s determination to tackle youth crime, but it needs to properly fund the services that work most closely with young people at risk of offending.

“It is also important that there is no delay in councils finding out how much funding they will be allocated, so they can effectively plan services to support young people.”

Youth offending teams have been credited with helping prompt an 86% decrease in first-time entrants to the youth justice system over the past 10 years, as well as a 78% drop in arrests.

Over the same period, the number of youth cautions handed out dropped by more than 100,000, or 91%.

Meanwhile, police forces across the UK have asked the Government for emergency funding to help them bear down on violence now.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) confirmed on Friday it had sent information to the Home Secretary concerning how much money was needed.

Sajid Javid had previously pledged to do “everything I can” to provide police with the resources required.

Chancellor Philip Hammond came under fire for saying that police should shift existing resources into tackling knife crime rather than expect more funding.

London mayor Sadiq Khan said forces in the capital were already prioritising violent crime – and insisted that moving funds would not fill the “massive hole” left by central Government cuts.

During a housing visit in north London, he told the Press Association: “In London we are prioritising our efforts towards tackling violent crime, tackling knife crime.

“I myself have directed officers to move from roads and transport to do the violent crime taskforce work, so we are really prioritising the resources we have to deal with the issue of the increasing violent crime.

“The stark reality is in London over the last eight years, we have lost more than £800 million of funding from central Government, we’re being asked to make a further round of cuts of £200 million from central Government – that’s a billion pounds lost from the Met Police budget.

“Re-prioritising, increasing council tax, diverting business rates money away doesn’t fill the massive hole left by central Government cuts.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Mr Khan called on ministers to “reverse the cuts” and “give us the funding we need to make sure there is sufficient policing across London”.

He added: “We’ve got fewer officers now in 2019 than in any time since 2003, when our population has grown by more than a million-and-a-half.

“But also we’ve seen youth services, preventative services, councils, schools have their budgets cut as well, so we need investment in preventative services but also policing too.”

He said London could not wait another few years to see investment, insisting: “We need it now.”

The number of police officers across the 43 forces in England and Wales has fallen by more than 20,000 since 2009, but the Prime Minister has said there is no correlation between the decline and “certain crimes”.

Former Labour home secretary Lord Blunkett joined calls to increase stop-and-search powers to help tackle the wave of violent crime, calling it a “prime enforcement tool”.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: “I can’t see how you can stop someone carrying a knife if you can’t search them for one.

“Stop-and-search, used intelligently and with, instead of targeted at, the communities most affected, has to be a prime enforcement tool, just to get that grip which makes it possible to implement other measures.”