Committee of Public Accounts: Press Notice

TACKLING ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR

Publication of 44th Report of Session 2006-07

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

“After dark our city and town centres are fast becoming no-go areas, with behaviour there ranging from drunken skylarking and intimidation to out and out criminal activity. No civilised country should have to put up with what can seem like an occupying army loose in the streets. The cost of responding to it is currently running at some £3.4 billion a year.

“A barrage of different anti-social behaviour measures was introduced ten years ago but the Home Office has not done any work nationwide to find out which ones work best. The National Audit Office found evidence that, for many tearaways, a simple and cheap warning letter was enough to deter further bad behaviour. But the government has not collected any information on the effectiveness of different measures on different groups of offenders.

“A hard-core of persistent offenders clearly regards ASBOs as part and parcel of its way of life and to be shrugged off accordingly. Enforcement action against these people must be absolutely rigorous and, where they persist in their breaches of Orders, there should be no hesitation in bringing prosecutions, Cases should also be considered for referral to the Crown Court which can impose custodial sentences. And we need to try to head off a new generation of persistent offenders, by directing appropriate support at families whose youngsters are at risk of falling into anti-social behaviour.

“The Home Office is notorious for a number of recent episodes where it provided duff information. The fact that it supplied the National Audit Office with incorrect data on perceptions around the country of anti-social behaviour does nothing to improve its reputation. The department should pull itself together.”

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 44th Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Home Office and the Respect Task Force, examined evidence emerging from the sample of 893 cases of individuals receiving anti-social behaviour interventions reviewed by the National Audit Office.

The Committee had also questioned the Home Office about its recent disclosure that a backlog of 27,500 notifications of convictions of British citizens abroad had been passed to the Association of Chief Police Officers for checking and entering on the Police National Computer in March 2006 after being allowed to build up over several years.

Anti-social behaviour by a small proportion of individuals and families brings misery and despair to local communities. Responding to reports of anti-social behaviour in England and Wales costs government agencies around £3.4 billion a year. There are also significant indirect costs to local communities and businesses, as well as emotional costs to victims and witnesses. In 2003 the Home Office formed the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit with an annual budget of £25 million to design and implement the Government’s policy on anti-social behaviour. In September 2005 the Government announced the creation of the cross government Respect Task Force to take forward the anti-social behaviour agenda and in January 2006 the Government published the Respect Action Plan.

Anti-social behaviour measures were first introduced in the mid 1990s, and since this time more powers and measures have been added to give local authorities, the police and others a toolkit of measures with which to tackle incidents of anti-social behaviour. People’s perception of the level of anti-social behaviour varies by gender, area and age, with people most likely to perceive high levels in areas of greatest social deprivation. Comparable local areas use different approaches to dealing with anti social behaviour and there has been no comparative evaluation of the success of these approaches. Nor has there has been a comprehensive evaluation of the use and success of the different measures and powers, making it difficult for the Home Office, the Respect Task Force and those dealing with anti-social behaviour to assess what works best.

Of the sample of 893 cases of individuals receiving anti-social behaviour interventions, around 46% related to people aged under 18 and 54% were over 18. In the absence of central data and national evaluations, the National Audit Office had used the sample to determine the apparent impact of the intervention applied in each case, in terms of whether there was evidence of further anti-social behaviour within the period covered by the case file review, and if so, after how long and what further intervention then occurred. Some 65% of the people in the sample received only one intervention. The National Audit Office review also found, however, that a small core of people engaged repeatedly in anti-social behaviour with around 20% of their sample cases receiving over half of all interventions issued.