Blunkett forces drugs tsar into part-time role

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The drugs tsar Keith Hellawell was sidelined yesterday by David Blunkett in one of his first moves as Home Secretary.

Mr Blunkett told the drugs tsar that he will be moved out of his full-time post later this summer. Mr Hellawell, who was appointed by the Prime Minister to the £106,000-a-year advisory position in January 1998, will complete his annual report before being forced into a part-time advisory role.

Last night a Home Office spokesman attempted to put a gloss on the move and said that Mr Hellawell would continue to support the Government on international drug trafficking issues.

"We have discussed Keith Hellawell's position with him and are pleased to say that he is willing to stay on as anti-drugs co-ordinator on a full-time basis until completion of his report for 2000-01. Thereafter he has agreed that he should continue to provide support... on the international dimension on a part-time basis."

The new Home Secretary yesterday toured a council estate in south London where he reaffirmed the Government's commitment to tackling drug use in Britain. His decision to move aside Keith Hellawell so swiftly surprised many in the voluntary sector, despite concerns within Whitehall about the direction the anti-drugs policy was taking.

There were strong hints that Mr Hellawell's future may be in jeopardy when he was conspicuously absent as Gordon Brown announced a £300m package to help local communities fight drugs. However, the drugs tsar did succeed in setting tough targets in a 10-year plan and shifting the emphasis from law enforcement of drug users to education, prevention and treatment.

In January he had his contract renewed for a further three years despite question marks over the effectiveness of the role and some confusion about the Government's policy towards soft and hard drugs.

One of Mr Hellawell's targets that the Government is expected to retain was to reduce the number of people aged 16 to 25 using heroin and cocaine by 2005 from 8.3 per cent to 6.2 per cent. By 2008 this number should be reduced to 4.1 per cent. The Home Office was last night unable to say how long Mr Hellawell would continue in his part-time advisory role and whether the full-time post would be replaced.

The future of the deputy UK anti-drugs co-ordinator Mike Trace was also unclear. However he is highly rated by ministers who believe his tenure in the post has been a success.

Roger Howard, chief executive of the charity Drugscope, said: "He leaves two legacies ­ one is a lot of new investment in treatment and prevention particularly. He also leaves the Government holding some very challenging targets.

"I think many people will be wanting reassurances, with David Blunkett leading, that the health and education initiatives will be balanced against the... crime initiatives."