Anti-social behaviour: new government consultation

The government published  More effective responses to anti-social behaviour last month – a consultation  on reforming the “toolkit” available for tackling anti-social behaviour. The reforms would consolidate powers – fewer powers with wider uses.The consultation document suggests streamlining the system, with a key proposal being the abolition of Anti Social Behaviour Orders (“ASBOs”) and “other court orders introduced to deal with anti-social individuals” and replaced with two civil orders: a Criminal Behaviour Order and a Crime Prevention Injunctions. 

Many local authorities may already be talking to their residents, community groups and community safety partners on this consultation. Every council should respond to it (consultation ends on 3 May 2011), given that the public clearly see tackling anti-social behaviour as a high priority.

The Home Secretary’s announcement in July last year that she intended to abolish asbos attracted a lot of media attention. This consultation makes it clear that asbos may go, but they will be replaced with other tools, some of which do not look very different from those tools and powers that exist now. However, local government must welcome the intention to simplify and streamline these: given the way in which the number of tools expanded all the time and the public’s confusion as to who was responsible for taking action.

Local authorities should also welcome the commitment to increasing flexibility at the local level and reducing central prescription.

There are many innovative schemes, led by local authorities and crime and community safety partnerships, that tackle anti-social behaviour currently. Not everywhere has been as successful, and there are still concerns that the police see anti-social behaviour as not proper crime (as shown in the report ‘Stop the Rot’ on their review of anti-social behaviour last September by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary). The paper insists that anti-social behaviour is not distinctive from crime – it includes crime, disorder and nuisance.

The re-emphasis on the civil burden of proof, positive activities and on injunctions will build on the success of the ASBI (Anti-social Behaviour Injunction) in social housing and, again, should be welcomed.

Having more streamlined tools should help remove some of the current bureaucracy around the tools and help agencies like social landlords take effective action.

This consultation also fits with the big society agenda – encouraging community involvement. It must be right that local people have a shared view of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour, are involved in restorative measures and work closely with community safety partners. The proposed Neighbourhood Justice Panels where local people share information could work here, though equally could become talking shops, and, anyway, the policy is not yet fully developed.

The aims of the reforms are clear: streamlined tools with more flexibility; a swifter and more efficient process; prevention of crime and escalation of anti-social behaviour incidents; rehabilitation after crimes have taken place; and involving communities in tackling anti-social behaviour.

How successful tackling anti-social behaviour will be will depend, of course, on more than the tools and powers available. There is concern, for example, that reducing police numbers could undermine the emphasis on anti-social behaviour, with fewer police seen on the streets and priority given to crimes such as car theft. Cuts to wider community services will also not help. It will be even more crucial that partnerships work with local people to establish understanding of and trust in how local agencies working together can fundamentally improve the quality of life in local communities.

This post is based on a LGiU members briefing written by Janet Sillett. Briefings are available through individual subscriptions and accessible to all officers and elected members of our member authorities. For more information on joining the Local Government Information Unit please follow this link.