This week, the BBC have broadcast a series of items regarding the scandal of County Lines which involves the exploitation of thousands of vulnerable children and young people across the country. Part of the BBC’s investigation was filmed in and around St Helens.
Labour’s Cllr Jeanie Bell, Cabinet Member for Community Safety, has issued the following statement:
“As figures released earlier this week from the BBC show the issue of drug crime is moving from big cities into towns across the country causing the increase in County Lines criminal behaviour.
The Council worked with Merseyside Police, the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit and the BBC to help raise the profile of this issue and help people understand the complex situation that young people can find themselves in and how everyone can play a role in helping us to combat the exploitation of children by criminal gangs.
In St Helens last year we increased our investment in children’s services and we have good partnership arrangements with organisations such as the police, our new Multi-Agency Safeguarding Arrangements have also been brought in to further enhance our collaborative working.
The council and our partners agencies such as the police work closely together but powers to prevent this type of crime are limited and we rely heavily on community intelligence to break the chains of supply and protect our young people and those most at risk.
We are working hard to tackle issues such as County Lines but we need the investment from National Government to make that happen and a national strategy. The government needs to ensure all services are properly funded and resourced, the time for empty promises is over, we need a firm commitment to tackle this issue nationally with a strategy and funding to support the work.
Inadequate funding across public services means tackling a complex issue such as County Lines remains very challenging, but we are doing everything we can to protect young people and would encourage communities to help us by reporting any concerns.”
Council Leader Cllr David Baines has also made the following statement: “The Council agreed to assist the BBC in highlighting the County Lines issue, which affects children and communities right across the country, because we believe it is important that something like this has its profile raised. We can only tackle this type of issue as a society by increasing public awareness and getting community intelligence
This Council’s first priority is the protection of young people in our care, and proper constructive scrutiny of Council staff, senior Councillors, and services is vital. Before becoming Leader I was Chair of our Overview and Scrutiny Commission for three years and I know how important its role is. Through bodies such as the Children’s Improvement Board, the People’s Board and Children and Young People’s Scrutiny, Councillors help to hold providers of services to account and help to drive up standards. This is vital. And on a day-to-day basis, myself, my Cabinet, and backbenchers from all parties are able to challenge and query decisions and fulfil our duties as Corporate Parents.
As Leader I will always be honest about the challenges our Children’s Services face, and the work we are doing collectively to improve the service. We will never shy away from being honest about this. In fact, at a recent Cabinet meeting in July we agreed new Edge of Care and Complex Safeguarding Proposals which refer to children at risk of exploitation. This is therefore an issue we are addressing publicly, and the fact that the Council has engaged with the BBC in highlighting the County Lines issue is of course further evidence of this.
As Leader I have an open door policy, and all members are able to raise concerns and debate issues with me directly. Nothing will distract me or this Council from focusing fully on protecting young people and improving standards in children’s care. County Lines is an example of the challenges we as a society face, and as a Council we will continue to do all we can to tackle these issues head on.”