At this small, but lively session there was a wide ranging discussion about the civil disturbances in August, the possible causes and implications for local government’s work in the future.
Councillor John Merry, the Leader of Salford kicked things off by giving a flavour what had happened in his area and the aftermath. Addressing the issue of causes, he gave the view that there was no one single underlying reason and that it varied across the areas affected: in some it might have been protest, for others organised criminal activity or materialism.
Salford has a complex strategy following the disturbances, which includes rebuilding communities’ confidence, engaging young people in a positive way and taking action against those who were involved.
He finished by declaiming the demonisation of young people, a subject which was picked up with gusto by Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner for England. She made a passionate plea for everyone to ‘get real’ about the nation’s children, the vast majority of whom were not involved and were just as horrified as the adults by what took place on those few days.
She also called on councils to truly involve young people in finding the solutions and invited local areas to tell her what they were doing.
Debbie Jones, the Director of Children’s Services at the London Borough of Lambeth described the response in Lambeth, including an incredibly powerful event talking place within 72 hours that galvanised the community. Children and young people were very clear from the start: listen to our views. A ‘youth summit’ was held with over 200 young people and Lambeth has created a Community Youth Trust, which will inform commissioning in the future. Debbie also talked about the vulnerability of young people being remanded that had never been involved in the justice system before and the need to work closely with magistrates.
Many people contributed to the discussion session. A lead member from Sandwell described how their youth parliament was horrified by what had happened and expressed frustration that the local press are not interested in positive stories about young people. Sandwell is setting up a scrutiny panel of young people for council activity, a move that was praised by Maggie Atkinson. The lead member from Bradford talked about their experience and learning from previous riots, from which they had miniscule re-offending – showing that you can turn things round.
Further concern was raised about young people entering custody, both in relation to this event and more generally, that we lock up more children than many other countries. Greater use of restorative justice approaches was advocated to give children a better understanding of the consequences of their actions.
One of the more controversial issues was removing people’s tenancy if they had been involved, which had both supporters and detractors. The other was whether there is a direct link between cuts to services and the disorder, something that Councillor Merry refuted. He closed the session by warning against stereotyping particular communities and describing how the light of community spirit had shone through in his area. He rounded things off with a view common across the room – that there is not one solution and we need a holistic response.
LGA free events which continue discussions about the riots
For more information see:
Smith Square debate: Moving on from the riots – a leadership challenge – on the LGA website