Extra Funding For ‘Respect Zones’

Forty areas of England and Wales are to be offered more money to tackle the problem of anti-social behaviour. The government’s “respect tsar”, Louise Casey, said councils in deprived areas were bidding to become “respect zones”.

{mosimage}In return for extra funding, the 40 areas – to be identified next month – would be expected to use their full powers to combat anti-social behaviour.

Deprivation, truancy and school exclusion rates are among the factors used by the government to decide the areas to target.

Meanwhile, Home Office minister Tony McNulty said the areas selected were “by no means….the worst places in the country to live”, but had “particular difficulties”.

Ms Casey said: “We approached these local authorities and asked if they wanted to become ‘respect’ areas, and now they have signed up for it. They have to convince us that they will do it.”

But Mr Davis said: “The fact the government are resorting to having to bribe local authorities to sign up to their gimmicks betrays just how unsuccessful they have been.” He called for “simple, practical measures” to catch and deter those who commit anti-social behaviour.

Mr McNulty responded to this by saying: “To dismiss it as a bribe or a gimmick, I think, is frankly insulting to the communities that are actually on the wrong end of anti-social behaviour.”

Ms Casey also called for more debate on why some anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) were being persistently breached.

Earlier this month, figures revealed about half of all anti-social behaviour orders given out in England and Wales were breached. Asbos are civil orders imposed by courts that restrict people from certain activities or locations. Breaching them can lead to criminal punishments – including jail terms of up to five years.

In one report, the National Audit Office (NAO) analysed 1,000 cases dating from 1999 to April 2006. It found 35% of Asbo holders had breached their order five or more times. The NAO also said the cost of responding to reports of anti-social behaviour in England and Wales was about £3.4bn per year.

The Home Office said 47% of Asbo holders had breached their orders since 1999 – with the rate rising to 57% among juveniles. Its figures also show there were 4,060 Asbos issued in 2005 – a rise of 18% on 2004.

Critics say Asbos are a blunt weapon that fail to tackle the complexity of anti-social behaviour. Others say acting on the breaches has become expensive.

Ms Casey said: “The figures very clearly show that kids who are breaching Asbos are breaching everything else as well. It is not the failure of the Asbo; it is the failure of getting the offending behaviour of that young person under control.”

She added: “That is a wider debate for the Home Office to have. This small minority who are in the ‘super-criminal’ groups are breaching everything under the sun.”

Ms Casey has also advocated so-called “street meetings”, where senior figures from local councils and police forces would gather in neighbourhood locations such as community centres, rather than more formal town halls, to listen to residents’ fears.

The Home Office is working on guidelines to help authorities deal with anti-social activities. In March it will publish a leaflet for the public outlining their rights when faced with yobbish behaviour, and how to ask for help through official channels.