Blair launches five-year plan with call to end '1960s consensus' on law and order

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Communities blighted by crime will be able to trigger snap inspections of their local police force, the Government announced yesterday as it set out plans to cut the number of offences in Britain every year by nearly 900,000.

Communities blighted by crime will be able to trigger snap inspections of their local police force, the Government announced yesterday as it set out plans to cut the number of offences in Britain every year by nearly 900,000.

David Blunkett's five-year plan for the Home Office announced a further recruitment of civilian wardens, freeing up 12,000 police officers to return to frontline duties. The Home Secretary promised a dramatic expansion of electronic tagging and of drug treatment for offenders and the creation of "electronic border controls" designed to catch terrorists and international criminals.

The plan was published as Tony Blair insisted the Government would end "the 1960s liberal, social consensus on law and order" by switching attention away from offenders to the needs of victims.

Mr Blair promised to deliver a society built around "rules, order and proper behaviour". In a speech delivered at a community centre in north-west London, Mr Blair, watched by Mr Blunkett, said: "People do not want a return to old prejudices and ugly discrimination. But they do want rules, order and proper behaviour.

"They know there is such a thing as society. They want a society of respect. They want a society of responsibility. They want a community where the decent law-abiding majority are in charge; where those that play by the rules do well and those that don't get punished."

It was attacked by the Conservatives as an attempt to "grab headlines without substance", but Mr Blunkett retorted that it was a "move to put law-abiding citizens first".

Efforts to open the police to greater local accountability follow concerns among ministers that initiatives on anti-social behaviour are not being converted into action. Plans are being drawn up to allow residents to make police focus on local grievances, requiring senior officers to attend meetings or draw up action plans. In extreme cases, they could force outside scrutiny of how their local police station was operating, Mr Blunkett said:

"We are talking about snap inspections ... to be made where there is widespread disaffection. We are thinking of issues like the levelling of a petition where people could trigger these particular measures."

The initiative is likely to put the Government in conflict with police chiefs, who jealously guard the flexibility for local forces to decide priorities.

Mr Blunkett said he had secured extra money from the Treasury to recruit another 20,000 Community Support Officers (CSOs), 5,000 more than previously announced, bringing the total to 25,000 by 2008.

Their recruitment and a renewed drive against bureaucracy could release 12,000 police officers to return to frontline tasks, he said. Fixed-penalty notices, allowing on-the-spot fines of up to £80, will be extended to a range of new offences, including petty shop- lifting, throwing fireworks, underage drinking, selling alcohol to under-18s and vandalism.

The number of areas where detailed action plans for tackling anti-social behaviour will be increased from 10 to 50 and initiatives to prevent teenagers drifting into crime expanded.

At the other end of the scale, there will be a "blitz on prolific offenders", the Home Office said, concentrating on 5,000 people who account for almost 10 per cent of offences. That is likely to include fast-tracking through the courts and electronic tagging after they have served their sentences.

Mr Blunkett said: "We need people working with the individual to change their lifestyle and their ability to come out of the fruitless, revolving door cycle. If prison had worked with these prolific offenders, they wouldn't be prolific"

Use of electronic tagging will double so that 18,000 will be monitored at any one time, with satellite tracking for sex offenders and men convicted of domestic violence beginning in pilot form in September.

Under the plan, which restates the Home Office's commitment to introducing identity cards, from 2008 all travellers entering or leaving Britain will be photographed, and could be compared with international databases of criminals.

The Home Office has set itself the target of achieving a 15 per cent cut in numbers of offences by 2008, representing a fall of 885,000 on the 5.9 million crimes committed in 2002-03. It signalled a further expansion of the prison population - already at record levels - from 75,000 to 80,000 over the next four years.

It also predicted that the costs of asylum will fall by £450m a year as applications drop.

Mr Blunkett told MPs: "Antisocial behaviour, binge drinking and lower-level thuggery continue to blight the lives of too many people.

"We must change the culture of violence. Respect needs to be restored. Responsibility and duty accepted and parenting seen as an essential contributor to changing behaviour."

James Paice, a Tory home affairs spokesman, said: "Isn't this just another example of you and the Prime Minister grabbing headlines without substance? Why should we believe this lot of initiatives is any better than the 155 others that we've had since just the last election?"

Mark Oaten, for the Liberal Democrats, said he was "at a loss" to understand Mr Blair's bid to blame the liberal culture of the 1960s for anti-social behaviour: "I would have thought the culture of the 80s may have more to do with it," he said.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Government is torn between its well thought out work to support vulnerable families, reform youth justice and get drug addicts into treatment and tough, populist talk to win votes."

THE MAIN POINTS

  • Number of civilian community support officers to rise from 5,000 to 20,000 by 2008
  • Extra 12,000 police officers freed for frontline duties by reducing paperwork
  • Powers for the public to force police action against nuisance behaviour
  • Number of pilots for "Together" schemes, where antisocial behaviour is addressed, increased from 10 to 50. The 50 worst offenders in each area to be named
  • Doubling of electronic tagging to to 18,000 people and introduction of satellite tracking
  • One thousand drug-using criminals to be treated by 2008
  • Witnesses to get better information as cases proceed
  • New £36m unit to offer support to witnesses and the victims of crime
  • Fixed-penalty notices extended to other crimes, petty theft such as shoplifting, under-age drinking, lower-level damage and misuse of fireworks
  • Electronic surveillance at borders and ports to be improved in drive against terrorism and illegal immigration
  • From 2008, everyone entering or leaving the country to have their photograph taken
  • New Serious Organised Crime Agency to be created
  • Asylum costs to be cut by £450m a year as applications fall

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