Community and young people’s voices must be at the heart of an effective “public health” approach to reducing violence. That was the message from Lib Peck, head of Sadiq Khan’s newly-created Violence Reduction Unit, in her first appearance before the London Assembly police and crime committee.
The former Labour leader of Lambeth Council, who took up her City Hall post in March, fielded questions from Assembly members on the unit’s priorities, work programme, and when £5 million earmarked by the Mayor for projects to tackle violent crime across the capital would be allocated.
Plans for the unit were announced in September last year to take forward the “public health” approach in the wake of significant increases in violent crime since 2014. Met Police figures for 2018 record 136 homicides alongside nearly 15,000 knife crime offences, 2,500 gun crime offences and around 85,000 domestic abuse offences, while since the beginning of this year London has seen 33 homicides.
It’s about looking at violence “not as isolated incidents or solely a police enforcement problem” but as “as a preventable consequence of a range of factors, such as adverse early-life experiences, or harmful social or community experiences and influences,” according to City Hall.
The approach is based on successful violence reduction initiatives in Glasgow. But it was important to remember that “London isn’t Glasgow”, Peck told the committee, batting off questions as to why she hadn’t yet made a visit north of the border. “London is much more complex.”
That complexity, at institutional level as well as in terms of varying levels of crime and a wide variety of initiatives already underway, had also led her to revise the unit’s initial proposals for pan-London work based around six sub-regional “hubs”.
Plans due for ratification today at the unit’s “partnership reference group” of professionals and community representatives will now adopt a “more hyper-local, place-based approach”. While those plans confirmed that delivery would initially “focus on priority areas…and not cover all of London”, Peck stressed that the whole of the capital would benefit from sharing good practice.
“My rationale for changing was that it felt too imposing and spreading what we had too thinly across London,” she said. “My concern was the notion that you had to get a template out and every borough had to have a VRU. Talking to people on the ground I’ve sensed a reluctance to set up new structures where there are existing systems in place. There’s lots of good practice out there. I want to go with the grain.
“So community and local activity isn’t going to be determined by City Hall, but we will be looking at the areas most affected and then spreading lessons across London. It’s also as much about listening and learning as it is about money.”
Commissioning plans would be in place by the end of June to allow organisations to bid for support, she confirmed, with success measures in place too, and community representation on the partnership reference board increased.
Peck also confirmed that, despite the current focus on young people and knife crime, violent crime of all types would fall within the unit’s remit. And she confirmed Mayor Khan’s support for her unit’s objective of discouraging the use of images of knives by the police as well as the media, as well as sensationalist media headlines reinforcing fear among young people and others.
City Hall funding for the unit amounts to £6.8 million in 2019, including £5 million of project funding. The funding runs alongside the Mayor’s £45 million Young Londoners Fund, £1.4 million for hospital-based youth workers directly supporting knife crime victims, and a separate £15 million allocation supporting women and girls suffering domestic violence. The Mayor has also bolstered the Met’s violent crime taskforce, with £15 million specifically to address knife crime.