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Nick de Bois MP: More people and bodies should have the power to pull the Community Trigger

Debois-nickNick de Bois is the Member of Parliament for Enfield North and a Secretary of the 1922 Committee. Follow Nick on Twitter.

Everyone should feel safe and secure in their own neighbourhood – but, for far too many people, anti-social behaviour remains a serious problem blighting their daily lives. Successive governments have sought to prevent and control it - but, while progress has been made, there is still a long way to go.

There isn’t a constituency surgery I hold at which at least one person comes to me about their experiences of anti-social behaviour. They always feel let down, ignored and as if, no matter what the politicians in Westminster say, nothing is going to change their dreadful situation.

In reality, the term anti-social behaviour is a catch-all term for anything from abusive or threatening behaviour, dumping rubbish, and dealing drugs on the street - but it dilutes what are real and, frankly, life-changing problems faced by many people across the country every single day.

Gone are the days when officials in Whitehall should be setting erroneous and crude diktats to respond to anti-social behaviour. Instead, we should expect Police and Crime Commissioners and other local representatives to respond to specific issues. However, a role for central government remains - namely, to support these local bodies and ensure that the rights of victims are firmly put first. There remains far more that can be done to facilitate innovation and share best practice, using examples of what has and hasn’t worked before.

Some of those who commit anti-social behaviour are evidently not concerned by any measure previously put in place to curb their damaging actions. Consider Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, for example. Of the nearly 22,000 issued between 2000 and 2011, nearly 60 per cent were breached at least once, and nearly 50 per cent were breached more than once.

Therefore, the only way in which we can hope to begin to win the war against those who blight local communities is by fully engaging with these local communities - ensuring that responses are bespoke, long-term and actually work. The Community Trigger and the Community Remedy seek to achieve these aims by allowing those being affected by anti-social behaviour both to force the hand of the authorities in investigating alleged behaviour and help to decide how those committing such behaviour are punished.

While the Community Remedy will not at all be equivalent to a modern pillory or stocks, it will empower local communities by giving them the opportunity to direct the punishment of those who blight their local environment because of their behaviour. Such an approach will allow punishments to be far more responsive, and require that those who commit anti-social behaviour are accountable to victims.

The Community Trigger will guarantee that action is taken on persistent anti-social behaviour complaints which have often been repeatedly ignored. Although it is currently being piloted in four local authority areas, the emerging picture of these trials shows that currently the Community Trigger is not being used in the levels which were anticipated. This is not because there are minimal examples of anti-social behaviour which could benefit from the Community Trigger – as my experiences of dealing with constituents who visit my surgeries continually shows.  Rather, it is because, more often than not, people remain fearful about raising their concerns.

Every Member of Parliament and Local Councillor has met individuals experiencing anti-social behaviour who feel they have nowhere left to turn. They consider the police to be uninterested, the Local Authority as unwilling to investigate -and that their final chance is to speak to someone who in reality has no executive authority to alter their situation, but only make further representations on their behalf to those same relevant authorities who have already repeatedly let them down. It is an odd state of affairs that those who are elected to act as legislators and representatives are powerless to intervene and help their constituents solve such life altering problems. Therefore there is no reason as to why the Community Trigger should not also be a tool by which local representatives can seek to help their constituents.

It is obvious that the Community Trigger, once fully implemented, has the power to change the way in which communities seek to prevent anti-social behaviour but, as the trials have shown, those individuals suffering the most may still feel unable to use it. This is why, as I recently raised during the debate on the introduction of the Anti-Social, Crime and Policing Bill, the Community Trigger should be widened to grant those who individuals turn to as their last resort the ability to activate it.

If this was to be the case, why stop just at elected local representatives if we are to have true localism? Residents’ Groups who conduct sterling work in protecting local communities should also be in a position to use the Community Trigger to protect the daily lives of their residents. Anti-social behaviour blights lives and destroys the harmony of communities – it prevents blameless and innocent citizens from feeling safe and secure in their own streets; therefore it is always welcome to see innovations that seek to curb its seemingly continual rise.

As the Government seeks to enable local communities to become partners of the police and local authorities in having more control over their surroundings and defeating anti-social behaviour, it makes perfect sense to increase those who have the ability to engage the Community Trigger - giving those who are voiceless because of their fear the ability and power to improve their daily lives, and prevent anti-social behaviour from escalating further.


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