Blair condemned over plan for 'respect zones'

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair admitted that many communities were blighted by vandalism and hooliganism on a scale unthinkable when he was a boy.

The Prime Minister painted a rosy picture of his youth as he announced a fresh Government initiative to crack down on anti-social behaviour. The move was condemned by opposition parties as a gimmick and an admission of failure.

The plan involves turning 40 English towns and cities, from Plymouth to Newcastle and from Hastings to Blackpool, into "respect zones", getting extra cash in return for a promise to use their full powers to address the problem.

The money will be used to provide parenting classes, tackle truancy and advise the public on taking action against so-called "neighbours from hell".

Mr Blair said: "A few years back, when I was growing up in the North-east of England, anti-social behaviour wasn't a concept in people's minds. That's not to say that people weren't doing bad things - they were. It was just it was a completely different order of problems that we had to deal with, in this country and every other country of a similar type around the world."

He said the growth of anti-social behaviour was fuelled by the "drugs culture" and the existence of a "small number of very dysfunctional families where the kids are not being properly brought up".

Speaking in Brighton, he said: "It's a major issue everywhere and it's part of the changing nature of modern society but we have to make sure that we have got the powers and the people in place to make a difference."

The young Tony Blair had a middle-class upbringing in Durham, the family moving to a four-bedroom house on the edge of the city when he was 10. He was educated at a preparatory school in the city before moving to Fettes, the private boarding school in Scotland.

He said yesterday he had decided to take a stand against anti-social behaviour after finding the issue ignored by the media but of great concern across the country.

He said the three key aspects of the Government's approach was to give police more powers, to have more visible policing and to involve the local community.

The Government also wants to drive down the proportion of anti-social behaviour orders that are breached by offenders, currently running at almost half. A damning recent report warned that some young offenders view receiving an Asbo as a "badge of honour".

Nick Herbert, the shadow Police minister said: "The Government has cut 4,000 promised police community support officers from the forces covering these so-called 'respect areas'. Communities don't want gimmicks like 'respect handbooks' - they want police officers on their streets to take real action against anti-social behaviour."

Paul Cavadino, chief executive of crime reduction charity Nacro, said: "In order to get the additional money, councils have to sign up to using Asbos despite mounting evidence that these are rarely the best way to tackle anti-social behaviour. This threatens to penalise local authorities who are finding positive and creative measures to tackle anti-social behaviour."

He added: "Asbos should only be used as a last resort, when other more effective preventive measures have been exhausted.

"Funding for alternative programmes to reduce anti-social behaviour must not be dependent on a willingness to use anti-social behaviour orders."

The 40 areas are: Birmingham, Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton, Bournemouth, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Burnley, Bradford, Coventry, Derby, Doncaster, Exeter, Gloucester, Harlow, Hastings, Hull, Ipswich, Kirklees, Knowsley, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oldham, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Salford, Sandwell, Sheffield, South Tyneside, Southampton, Southend-on-Sea, Sunderland, Wakefield and the Wirral.