Blunkett warns town halls in anti-social crackdown

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Indy Politics

A crackdown on anti-social behaviour which costs taxpayers £3.4billion a year in England and Wales was announced by the Government today.

Home Secretary David Blunkett published research which showed that on just one day last month 66,107 incidents of anti-social behaviour were reported to the police, councils and other agencies - or one every two seconds.

A new Home Office action plan set out a host of initiatives to tackle problems such as "neighbours from hell", begging and graffiti.

Council workers and others who fail to take on anti-social behaviour should face the consequences, Mr Blunkett told delegates at the programme's launch in Westminster.

"I have got a message for those right across the country who think they are big enough to take on not me but the communities they serve," said the Home Secretary.

"They are paid by the community and they should be held to account by the community if they don't do their job on behalf of the community.

"Somebody, sometimes has to hold to account those who don't do their job at local level."

Mr Blunkett attacked the "garbage" of the 1960s and 1970s, when it was argued that officials should be "non-judgmental" about people who behaved badly.

"You can't be non-judgmental when you live next door to the family from hell," said the Home Secretary.

Nuisance families will be targeted in four pilot areas - Birmingham, Manchester,

Sheffield and Sunderland - which will aim to draw up the best techniques for tackling "neighbours from hell".

A Nuisance Neighbour Panel will co-ordinate work, beginning in January, and will invite victims of nuisance neighbours to take part.

The Home Office said the new initiatives would tackle at least 150 households in both Birmingham and Manchester by March 2005, 100 in Sheffield and 50 in Sunderland.

The action plan also detailed a number of programmes to tackle scruffy neighbourhoods.

Ten areas, which were not named in the document, will be targeted for a "100 days clean-up" which will attack three priorities in the local community such as removing abandoned cars or removing graffiti.

There will be a "Shop 'em and Stop 'em" project for people to inform on graffiti artists.

A national database will be set up to identify each paint vandal by their so-called "tag" - the nickname or pseudonym they use.

During 2004, 12 areas in England and Wales will pilot new powers in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, which is currently before Parliament, to force the owners of telephone boxes and other street furniture to clear up graffiti.

The Home Office said three-quarters of beggars were heroin or crack cocaine addicts.

So-called "trailblazers" will aim to tackle begging in Brighton, Bristol and Leeds, as well as in Westminster and Camden in the capital.

The scheme will aim to tackle causes of vagrancy, such as drug or alcohol problems, and look at setting up "alternative giving" initiatives so that people can donate to charities rather than giving money direct to beggars.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "To the police, housing officers, local authorities - we've listened, we've given you the powers and it's time to use them.

"We will continue to listen. So, if even after this legislation more powers are needed, we will go further and make sure that you get them."

He added: "We have got to be very clear - the absence of local facilities, or that everyone can't have everything they want, does not excuse bad behaviour."

The world of 40 or 50 years ago when people could leave their doors unlocked had passed, said the Prime Minister.

"There's no point being nostalgic about it, the world shifts very fast.

"People don't go to congregate in their local working men's club - they watch the television and now there's the Internet.

"Because the community isn't as cohesive as it once was and children are subject from a very young age to all sorts of influences, what we've got to try to do is recreate that sense of community for today's world.

"The old systems of how we legislate and have justice in our society can't keep pace with the 21st century.

"I don't think we're going to create a definite type of society unless we're changing the basic system of criminal justice and the way we can implement the penalties that we need."

Mr Blair said it was sometimes necessary to "interfere with people's freedom" if they interfered with the freedom of people around them.

Mr Blunkett said that, overall the Government would spend £22million on strengthening responses to anti-social behaviour in the next year as part of a three year, £75 million programme.