Ministers clash over rival plans to tackle gangs


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The Independent Online

The all-out war that David Cameron promised to wage on gangs after the August riots is threatening to turn into one between government departments.

The Prime Minister appointed the Home Secretary Theresa May and the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith as joint heads of the so-called "gangs committee", which held its first meeting last week.

But already it has run into problems because Mr Duncan Smith, who spent months in opposition working on problems of social exclusion, has long-term plans to set gang members back on the straight and narrow. He wants to introduce an anti-gangs strategy modelled on those tried out in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Strathclyde, both of which were highly praised by David Cameron. But his ambitious proposals are not popular with the police, who face drastic cuts to their budgets and object to the potential cost.

Theresa May, who is involved in introducing directly elected police commissioners and changes to police pay, is anxious to avoid another source of friction with chief constables. She also wants to be able to demonstrate that the Government has acted quickly – rather than relying on a strategy that could take years to show results.

The Government has yet to act on a detailed report published in June last year by the chief inspectors of prisons, probation and constabulary, which called for the appointment of a gangs coordinator everywhere that gangs are operating, to take charge of finding out who they are and coordinate an approach that would punish troublemakers while trying to induce gang members to give up the life.

One of the problems, the report highlighted, is that government agencies have not even agreed a definition of what they mean by a "gang". The report broadly backed Mr Duncan Smith's strategy of getting the police and community to work together to separate gang members from the leaders and persuade them to break with the gangs.

The Labour MP Karen Buck, whose constituents in Westminster North have major problems with gangs, said: "I'm sure there is inter-departmental stress over who is in charge. My view is that, although it's good that Iain Duncan Smith and other ministers see that there is a need for a multi-agency strategy rather than a simple law and order strategy, there is also a problem with Iain Duncan Smith's approach, in that it is designed to deal with the problem in two or three years' time.

"We really have to intervene to tackle the problem as it stands. It has escalated in the past three or four years. In my constituency there were seven stabbings in just over a week in June."

On Thursday, Theresa May will meet representatives of Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry to discuss the Government's threat to close down social media if there is more disorder.