Tackling drug crime in local communities, House of Commons, 20 April 2022

The LGA continues to work with the Home Office to tackle serious and serious organised crime. In particular, the harrowing exploitation of children and young people by county lines drugs gangs is a significant and increasing concern for councils, and they are working hard with Government and local partners to protect those at risk of abuse.


Key messages

  • Councils are committed to working with all local partners to effectively tackle drug-related crime, which can have a devastating impact on the lives of its victims and wider communities. According to the National Crime Agency, violence at the street level is often linked to drugs supply, including county lines operations. There are also connections between drug supply and use with other forms of crime, such as anti-social behaviour and theft.
  • To address serious violent crime, councils work closely with a range of partners, including health, education, local government, the police and the voluntary sector, to coordinate a multi-agency response. We support a public health approach to reducing violent crime, which seeks to prevent perpetrators from committing crime in the first place and through investing in vital early intervention and prevention work.
  • The LGA continues to work with the Home Office to tackle serious and serious organised crime. In particular, the harrowing exploitation of children and young people by county lines drugs gangs is a significant and increasing concern for councils, and they are working hard with Government and local partners to protect those at risk of abuse.
  • To bolster local efforts to tackle serious violent crime, we continue to call for the Government to expand the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) model beyond the current 20 police force areas and commit to long-term funding. We welcome the expansion of Project Adder, which focusses on providing specialist drug treatment to reduce drug-related offending, to new local authority areas. It would be helpful for the Government to share the learnings from Project Adder to help councils roll-out this approach across the country.
  • Drug treatment services, working in partnership with other local services, help thousands of people to turn their lives around every year and play a crucial role in and tackling drug-related crime. They also offer significant savings for the public purse, saving society more than £2 billion every year.  Councils are responsible for commissioning addiction services as part of their public health responsibilities and are committed to ensuring people can access the right support, when they need it.
  • In recent years, funding for drug treatment services has not kept up with demand. The public health grant allocations councils use to fund local drug treatment and recovery have fallen in real terms by 24 per cent from 2015/16 to 2021/22, which has undermined services’ ability to meet all local needs. The public health grant allocation for 2022/23 also provided no real terms increase in public health funding.
  • We share the ambition of the Government’s 10 Year Drug Strategy, published in December 2021, to ensure vulnerable people have the support they need to rebuild their lives and reduce drug-related offences. As part of the strategy, Government has made £533 available to councils for drug treatment services over the next 3 years. This funding is welcome and will help councils to start to rebuild drug treatment services after cuts to the public health grant.
  • However, for the strategy to be successful, we also need to see significant investment in the full range of services which help prevent drug-related problems before they occur, including wider public health, housing, youth services, mental health and children’s services. This must be matched with a clear long-term plan for the future of public health, that recognises the public health challenges we face as a country; addresses workforce pressures and recognises the interconnectedness with other parts of the health and care system.

Backgrounds

The Government’s Beating Crime Plan outlined that “neighbourhoods blighted by the presence of highly damaging Class A drugs cannot prosper and provide the happy, healthy environment that their citizens deserve”. It identified that the most deprived areas face the highest prevalence of drug-driven crime and health harms associated with drug use and illegal drug markets.

According to the National Crime Agency, violence at the street level is often linked to drugs supply, including county lines operations. One third of victims and two thirds of suspects in homicide cases are either known drugs users or suppliers. There a strong connection between drugs supply and the use of firearms, with police regularly finding firearms at drug incidents. Organised acquisitive crime is also linked to other serious organised, drug-related crime, with theft sometimes being committed to fund other crimes.

According to Public Health England, there are thought to be around 1,000 different county lines operating across the country, each generating an estimated £800,000 a year in criminal profits. The consequences of joining a county lines gang can be horrific and life-threatening. The gangs use violence, intimidation, sexual exploitation and the offer of money or drugs to threaten people to stay in the group.

The harrowing exploitation of children and young people by county lines drugs gangs, is a significant and increasing concern for councils who are working hard to identity and protect those at risk of abuse. County Lines incorporates multiple forms of exploitation including coercion, trafficking, child sexual exploitation, gun and knife crime.

Drug treatment services

The provision of drug treatment services are also vital to reducing drug-related crime, to help drug users on the path to recovery and to prevent potential perpetrators from turning to crime.

Since 2013, when public health functions were transferred to local government, councils have held responsibility for commissioning drug and alcohol treatment services with through the public health grant. It is a condition of the 2021/22 grant that local authorities improve the take up of, and outcomes from, its drug and alcohol misuse treatment services, and the plan for services must be developed with local health and criminal justice partners.

We share the ambition of the Government’s 10 Year Drug Strategy, published in December 2021, to ensure vulnerable people have the support they need to rebuild their lives and reduce drug-related offences. As part of the strategy, the Government has made £533 available to councils for drug treatment services over the next 3 years. This boost in direct funding is welcome and will help councils to rebuild drug treatment services after cuts to the public health grant. Hover, for the strategy to be successful, we also need to see sustained and significant investment in wider public health programmes and the full range of local services which help prevent drug-related problems before they occur, including housing, youth services, mental health and children’s services.

Councils are committed to ensuring drug users get the right treatment and support, as part of their public health and other wider responsibilities. Working with the NHS, community groups and other partners, they help ensure vulnerable people are given the support to to stabilise their lives and find work, rebuild relationships, improve their physical and mental health and find safe and secure accommodation. They are also working to forge closer links between addiction services and other local services, including GPs; sexual health; criminal justice; housing and youth services. This is vital to providing users with wrap-around support and giving them the best chance of recovery.

Securing sustainable services

In recent years, funding for addiction services have not kept pace with demand, which has undermined councils’ ability to retain specialist staff, run sustainable services and meet all local demand. According to the Health Foundation, the public health grant allocations to local councils used to fund drug treatment and recovery have fallen in real terms from £4.2 billion in 2015/16 to £3.3 billion in 2021/22. On a per head basis that equates to a 24 per cent cut since initial allocations were made in 2015/16.

The allocation for the 2022/23 Public Health Grant also did not include a real terms increase in funding for public health, which will exacerbate the existing funding pressures on public health services. We are concerned about the impact this cut will have on provision, and our ability to address the stark health inequalities and the wider social issues our communities face. Uncertainty over future funding and short commissioning cycles for addiction services are also impacting councils’ ability to retain specialist substance use staff, and run sustainable services, that deliver outcomes for users and value for money.

Alongside sustainable funding, we urgently need a clear long-term plan for the future of public health services, which recognises the public health challenges we face as a country; addresses the current and future pressures on the public health workforce and recognises the interconnectedness with other parts of the health and care system.

Contact

Megan Edwards, Public Affairs and Campaigns Advisor

Email: [email protected]