As we have reached what we keep being told are the final days of the Parliamentary career of Theresa May, it is inevitable that those who wish to take on the role of Prime Minister will come under even more scrutiny than they have done so far. It would seem likely that the speeches that these men and women have made recently and will make over the next few weeks will be shaped to gain the maximum support from their colleagues and the members of the Conservative Party. If that is the case a short introductory statement by Sajid Javid at the beginning of a debate on serious violence last Wednesday is unlikely to help his campaign. However the debate itself covered some vital elements which deserve wider attention than the few MPs who took part. His opening statement included these words “Serious violence is a national emergency that we are tackling head on. It is all too common to wake up to the heart-breaking story of slaughter on our streets… Many are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. We are seeing an epidemic of senseless violence to which anyone can fall victim. Since becoming Home Secretary, I have done everything in my power to help end the bloodshed. It has been my top priority, and we have responded to the crisis with urgent investment and additional powers, but, while lives are still being lost, it is clear that more must be done.”
The use of the phrase ‘national emergency’ is deeply problematic, despite the fact that at least 100 people have been murdered this year so far on the streets across our nation. Although each of the murders will have created a local emergency at the time, to argue that together they represent a national emergency is very questionable. According to my dictionary an emergency is defined as an “unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action and an urgent need for assistance or relief”. It is of course vital that every death and every attack of which there are many more than 100 will act as a catalyst for a reform of many elements in our nation but the speed with which the Government is responding indicates that despite his words, this is not seen as a national emergency. One theme came from Gareth Thomas, Labour MP for Harrow who asked “Does the Home Secretary share the head of the National Crime Agency’s assessment that, without more resources, we are in danger of losing the fight against organised crime?” Gareth reflected the warning from the head of NCA that organised crime kills more people every year than terrorism, war and natural disasters combined and a call for an additional £2.7bn over the next three years. Sajid’s response was that “We will certainly look at longer term resource need in the spending review”
Another theme that emerged related to youth services and it is clear that the cuts to youth provision funding has been substantial across our nation including Sussex. As Yvette Cooper explained during the debate “the programmes for youth investment are spread over 10 years. If the Home Secretary looks at the annual funding and adds together the early intervention fund, the trusted relationships fund, the youth endowment fund and the communities and local government fund, he will see that the total is only £35 million a year, and that is set against a £760 million cut in youth services” another MP added “Between 2012 and 2016, 600 youth centres have been closed, 139,000 places have been lost” It was good that the debate also involved two Sussex MPs, Huw Merriman and Tim Loughton who both referred to one youth based charity called Onside. As Tim stated “OnSide is a partnership between local authority youth services, children’s charities and business, and because it provides a variety of services at a variety of times to a large variety of children. It is a great model and we need more such models.” It is clear to me that there are a number of agencies which offer credible youth services in our communities. I had previous involvement in the YMCA Downslink Group and know of others such as Clocktower Sanctuary and Stopover which is part of Impact Initiatives. Let us hope that each Sussex MP will adopt Huw’s recommendation “every single MP could partner with a youth centre .. so that we can work closely with those youth centres and they can work closely with us?” and at the same time they will argue on behalf of Sussex Police for its funding to be substantially increased.