The council has taken its eye off the ball on crime and anti-social behaviour.
Make no mistake – crime and antisocial behaviour is a big issue for the residents of this city and one which we are contacted regularly about by our constituents.
Whether it is graffiti, housing, the tents in public parks like the Old Steine, alcoholism, drug-taking or aggressive begging outside supermarkets, this is an issue that has a personal impact on people’s lives.
I sometimes wonder if some councillors running the city fully appreciate the stress and strain that is faced, for example, by a resident having to deal with the anti-social behaviour of a bad neighbour.
The council employs field officers to help address these problems – to work with residents and communities, gather evidence and target hotspots.
They cover issues related to noise nuisance, environmental health, housing, planning enforcement, community safety, seafront services and parks.
Residents pay for this service through council tax and the Housing Revenue Account budget. They expect to receive a good service in return.
But it has now become clear through correspondence and answers to questions put by the Conservative group that the city has been without a full complement of field officers over the summer.
There is meant to be a team of eight field officers working across the city – seven officers and a manager.
However, when I asked a question to Councillor Steph Powell at August’s meeting of the full council she confirmed that one third of the field officer positions were sitting vacant, with 2.5 of the seven full-time equivalent (FTE) positions left unfilled.
I asked the question because residents had reported a lack of responsiveness by the council to anti-social behaviour issues they were experiencing.
I do not blame Councillor Powell for this as she had only been in the job a week at that time and inherited the issue from Labour.
Councillor Powell did tell me she was going to resolve it and get the positions filled.
But nearly six weeks later my ward colleague Councillor Dawn Barnett received written notification that the situation had got worse, with the council advising that three FTE field officer positions were now unfilled and that this would continue into October.
Where we are now? We’ve gone a whole summer without a full complement. How, in this employment market, have we not been able to keep this unit fully staffed?
The administration were quick to find stewards to stop cars entering Madeira Drive for £300 a day. It looks like the administration has taken its eye off the ball.
A spate of summer crime
Our Conservative councillors raised the spate of anti-social behaviour the city experienced over the summer at the council’s committee for tackling anti-social behaviour (the Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee).
It is disappointing to now learn, after the fact, that the city was not using all the resources at its disposal during this time.
The main things field officers could have been doing over the summer, according to the official job description on the council’s website, include
- working with residents and communities to help solve local issues by involving appropriate partner and council services
- reporting issues they can’t deal with to council colleagues and partners
- supporting colleagues and partners by gathering evidence, so we can deal with issues reported by residents quickly, like a breach of planning conditions, unauthorised signage, anti-social behaviour and noise nuisance investigations
- supporting colleagues and partners by targeting “hotspot” areas over weekends and evenings
- field officers will work with colleagues from the Cityparks, Seafront and Travellers teams to investigate and enforce PSPO offences
- attend community meetings to better understand residents’ concerns and help plan solutions
I am someone who likes to put forward practical solutions rather than complaining so I have suggested to the council that there is an opportunity to take action to address these issues.
I have made a representation to the council to shine a light on the fact that in recent months and across the summer we have underutilised the resources that we have at our disposal for tackling crime and anti-social behaviour.
The resource I am referring to is the city’s field officers.
I have also requested an urgent report into how this has been allowed to happen and to push for practical solutions to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
The council has many tools at its disposal for combating crime and anti-social behaviour.
Some of these tools include the mobile CCTV cameras that have recently been rolled out at fly-tipping locations. This is fantastic and something I called for in Hangleton and Knoll.
But field officers are also a resource and one where the council should be doing much better.
As Conservatives we are always pushing for greater resources to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour – but this is an example where we need to better use the resources we already have.
There are many issues facing the city but this is one of the most important as it is an issue that directly affects residents in this city.
Many debates we have at council are about requesting more money for new services. But this is simply about better utilising the resources that we have.
The primary role of any Brighton and Hove City Council administration is to properly run the services that its residents rely on.
The Conservatives have now been raising the issue of field officers with the council both in meetings and through multiple correspondence since June.
This has spanned two council administrations – Labour and now Green – and our group members, who receive much correspondence from constituents about rising anti-social behaviour in the city, have been concerned with the lack of action.
A fully staffed, properly organised and fully co-ordinated field officer team could be contributing to co-ordinating the response against anti-social behaviour in the city.
I hope that tackling crime and anti-social behaviour will be given the priority it needs by the council going forward.
Councillor Nick Lewry is a Conservative councillor. He represents Hangleton and Knoll on Brighton and Hove City Council.
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