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Are cuts to youth services in Cambridgeshire behind spiralling knife crime figures?

The stabbing of an 18-year-old in Cambourne last week, for which a 16-year-old has been charged, is the latest in a string of disturbing knife crimes to hit Cambridgeshire.

Amid fears that a knife-carrying culture is spreading, cuts to youth services across Cambridgeshire have been blamed for an increase in knife crime in the county.

Knife crime increase blamed on cuts in youth services in Cambridgeshire
Knife crime increase blamed on cuts in youth services in Cambridgeshire

Recently published national research examined council youth service budgets and police data since 2014 and found areas suffering the largest cuts to spending on young people have seen bigger increases in knife crime.

Cambridgeshire County Council was named as one of the top four worst hit local authority areas with a funding cut by 88 per cent.

Police forces serving these areas have also seen some of the highest knife crime increases – since 2013-14 there has been a 95 per cent increase in Cambridgeshire.

The figures were obtained by an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Knife Crime which show the average council has cut real-terms spending on youth services by 40 per cent over the past three years. Some local authorities have reduced their spending – which funds services such as youth clubs and youth workers – by 91 per cent.

Now the county council wants to discuss the figures with the all-party group and acquaint them with the current level of support they offer young people in the region.

A spokesman said: “We would welcome a discussion with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime, as we would be happy to help them to better understand the current offer of support to young people across Cambridgeshire

“While job roles and titles have changed, the level of support to those young people most in need in our county has not.

“Since 2010 Cambridgeshire County Council has moved its focus on youth work away from open access to all such as youth clubs, to providing targeted and focused service for those children and young people who are most vulnerable and most at risk, and to parenting programmes and other support to their families

“In 2018-19 Cambridgeshire County Council allocated £1.6million to Early Help services linked directly to supporting young people, and a further £2million to Family Workers providing support to parents, including delivery of parenting programmes. In addition to roles within Early Help teams – posts working directly with young people can be found within both our Youth Support Service and Youth Offending Service.

“In addition our Innovate and Cultivate fund which offers grants for community and voluntary sector to develop local services allocated more than £250,000 last year to 13 specific projects targeted at supporting a variety of youth projects across the county.”

The APPG, supported by charities Barnardo’s and Redthread, obtained the figures on youth service budgets using Freedom of Information requests, which around 70 per cent of councils replied to.

There was a 68 per cent increase in knife offences recorded by police in England and Wales over the same period (from 25,516 in the year ending March 2014 to 42,790 in the year ending September 2018).

Young people from across the country travelled to Parliament to debate with MPs the effect of cuts to youth services in their area, and how youth centres and other types of support for young people can help prevent knife crime.

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Cambridgeshire County Council is concerned by the spending cuts over the last six years. She produced a motion at this spring’s party conference, which was approved nationally, and called for a major reinvestment in youth services.

Ms Nethsingha said: “These cuts are just wrong, whether it is the closure of children’s centres to reductions to the locality teams, which were cut from 17 to five.

“Cambridgeshire has not only changed the job roles but they have made big cuts to the amount omoney being spent. The reductions in spending over the past six years need to be taken in the context of rapidly increasing need, with more children and young people across the area, and far larger numbers with mental health issues, or coming into the care system. This increase in need is known by the council, but they have continued to make cuts to spending, choosing instead to prioritise keeping council tax low.”

The Lib Dems want a major reinvestment in youth services, both universal and targeted, with national government making youth services clearly a statutory service, working with local government to develop clear guidance on what councils should be providing, and ensuring there is sufficient grant funding to match that service provision.”

Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “These figures are alarming but sadly unsurprising. Taking away youth workers and safe spaces in the community contributes to a ‘poverty of hope’ among young people who see little or no chance of a positive future. The government needs to work with local authorities to ensure they have enough funding to run vital services and restore children’s sense of hope.

“But it’s not just a question of funding; money needs to be spent wisely.That’s why Barnardo’s is taking a radical new approach – working with national and local partners to co-design and deliver services that help children access support early.”

Jason Ablewhite, police and crime commissioner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, said: “This is a challenging time for all public services. However, the solution often lies in a partnership approach. We all have a part to play in stopping young people from carrying knives and that starts at home.

“While our officers work hard to catch offenders and talk to young people about the dangers of carrying knives, I am committed to doing everything I can to help steer young people away from serious crime. I contribute more than £250,000 to the county’s Youth Offending Service and fund restorative justice approaches to help offenders see the impact of their crimes. Additionally, my Youth and Community Fund has enabled grassroots diversionary projects to get off the ground.

“I want to reassure people that while possession of weapon offences increased in our county from 487 in 2017 to 527 in 2018, (a rise of 8.2 per cent), these figures are below the national average. We can all do more.”

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