London councils rebel over Respect areas to tackle antisocial behaviour

The government’s plans to tackle antisocial behaviour have faced a backlash from London councils reluctant to sign up as Respect areas.

The Home Office announced 40 Respect areas on Monday that it said had a strong track record on tackling antisocial behaviour and a willingness to do more.

It is understood that the Home Office’s Respect Task Force aimed to sign up 50 authorities across England, including at least eight in London. But, after concerns in the capital, the process went ahead without any London councils.

Two London councils, including Westminster, are said to have agreed to become areas. However, concerns raised by others, including Camden Council, have stalled the process.

A source close to the Respect Task Force said: “There has been a tension for the Respect unit in terms of signing up those [London] local authorities. They wanted all 50 authorities signed up by Christmas.”

A Home Office spokesperson added: “We are working with a number of London boroughs to assess their commitment and capacity to become Respect areas and hope to make a further announcement soon.”

It is understood Camden is likely to eventually sign up to the scheme, but has concerns over “mechanisms” it would be expected to use, rather than the overall agenda. It said the task force was proposing that councils used controversial family intervention projects that it was not sure would fit into its local services.

On the same day as the announcement, Camden released its own review into the impact of its action on antisocial behaviour, which raised questions over whether antisocial behaviour orders are having a disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities and vulnerable adults. It is now proposing to assess which groups might be adversely affected.

The Respect Task Force also released a progress report following the publication of its action plan last year, which showed big increases in the number of Asbos and voluntary acceptable behaviour agreements and parenting contracts issued across the country.

But the Camden review raised questions over the lack of evidence for the effectiveness of such antisocial behaviour interventions, a point echoed by crime reduction groups.

Nacro said the government suggested that the use of Asbos and other measures was “itself a success”, while the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies said the government’s data added little to the understanding of antisocial behaviour interventions, which remained “largely an evidence-free zone”.

Hugh Thornberry, director of children’s services at children’s charity NCH, said: “We should see the results on the ground. If a council demonstrates that it’s able to reduce antisocial behaviour without using any Asbos that should be OK.”

Camden, which has long been a champion of antisocial behaviour interventions, said in its review that there was a “clear need” for a major study on their effectiveness.

The review also gave backing to a tiered approach to the use of sanctions, with Asbos used as a last resort.

The council’s head of community safety, Tony Brooks, warned that proposals from the Home Office simply amounted to using more powers more often.

Respect areas will:
● Introduce family intervention projects to tackle problem neighbours.
● Increase use of parenting classes.
● Hold public forums for people to hold the police and councils to account.
● Keep up “relentless action” on antisocial behaviour “by using the full range of tools and powers available”.
● Use Respect housing guidance to prevent and deal with any problems in social housing.

Contact the authors
 Amy Taylor and Helen McCormack

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