A case of vandalism, littering, rowdiness or another form of antisocial behaviour is recorded every two seconds, the Government admitted yesterday, as it launched a fresh crackdown on yobbery.
The scale of the task facing David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, was underlined when it emerged that police and town halls received 66,107 complaints about disorder in a single day last month.
He announced a new package of initiatives to combat the blight of unruly behaviour, believed to cost the taxpayer more than £3bn a year. He coupled the move with a demand for the sacking of officials who failed to implement govern- ment initiatives on "nuisance neighbours", aggressive begging and abandoned cars.
At the Westminster launch of the programme, Mr Blunkett said: "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, the chief officers of police, housing environmental health or the courts should simply get rid of them.
"Somebody, sometimes has to hold to account those who don't do their job at local level."
He also delivered an outspoken attack on those who made excuses for antisocial behaviour, lambasting the "garbage" spoken in the 1960s and 1970s that officials should be "non-judgmental" about bad behaviour.
"You can't be non-judgmental when you live next door to the family from hell," he said. "If there are any who seriously believe we should be non-judgmental then I suggest they stay with the people who are living next door to these families, just for a week."
Mr Blunkett unveiled plans to clamp down on the worst problems of antisocial behaviour in nine English cities.
Nuisance neighbours will be targeted in Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Sunderland. So-called "trailblazer" projects will tackle begging in Brighton, Bristol and Leeds, as well as in Westminster and Camden in London.
The scheme will also aim to tackle causes of vagrancy, such as drug or alcohol problems, and consider "alternative giving" initiatives to persuade people to donate to charity rather than giving money direct to beggars.
Action against abandoned cars will be focused on London and Liverpool.
In other moves, 10 of England's most run-down estates, not yet selected, will be targeted for a "100 days clean-up". A "shop 'em and stop 'em" project for people to inform on graffiti artists will be created and a national database set up to identify each vandal by their so-called "tag".
Next year, 12 areas in England and Wales will pilot new powers in the Antisocial Behaviour Bill, which is currently before Parliament, to force the owners of telephone boxes and other street furniture to clean up graffiti.
Mr Blunkett announced yesterday that special prosecutors, based in the Crown Prosecution Service, will be appointed to speed up action against the worst antisocial offenders. In January, magistrates will be given new guidelines for sentencing under the Bill.
He said the Government would spend £22m on combatting antisocial behaviour in the next year, as part of a three-year £75m programme.
Tony Blair told the launch: "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."
Oliver Letwin, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "While we welcome the aims behind the announcement, there are serious questions about whether it is just another headline-grabbing initiative."
Keith Towler, a director at crime-reduction charity Nacro, said: "The Government's strategy is limited. It is limited by a heavy-handed and unnecessary emphasis on enforcement and punishment. And it is limited by its own clumsy definition of what it actually takes antisocial behaviour to be."
Councillor Richard Grant, chair of the Local Government Association's community safety panel, said: "Tough action against perpetrators may make good short-term headlines but unless that is accompanied with long-term action, the victims will be the long-term losers."
CASH FOR CAMDEN TO CLEAN UP ITS STREETS
By Terri Judd
Dwarfed by the £38m regeneration project around them, six homeless men and women sat in a heap outside King's Cross train station.
Nearby homeless men queued for food at the Hare Krishna hot meals van. Yesterday the local council, Camden, was given the money to get them off the streets as the Government announced its fight against the "scourge of anti-social behaviour".
"Where is this money going? The homeless never see it," said a 47-year-old former labourer who sleeps rough after coming to London for work five years ago. The magnificent Midland Grand Hotel rose up behind him. Empty for 20 years, it is being redeveloped as an "international deluxe" hotel.
Visitors now ring before entering the once open gates. "It's because of the winos, the undesirables." explained a cheerful security guard. Camden is one of ten trailblazer areas which will focus on issues such as nuisance neighbours or drunken youths.
With £100,000 a year for three years, the Council has been set the task of significantly reducing begging. King's Cross - synonymous with the seedier side of London - is one of the key targets. The money is but a tiny part of thatbeing invested in King's Cross ahead of the Channel Tunnel link at St Pancras. It recently set up a Street Services Team to be run by the Crime Reduction Initiatives charity. It will tackle homelessness, begging, sex work and other issues. Team director Carleton Astley said its aim was to get people to "... lead more constructive and responsible lives". Lee Hepple, 33, who has to deal with violence outside his 24-hour newsstand was sceptical. "It is a step in the right direction but King's Cross will always have that stigma," he said. "It is not going to work pushing people out," said 44-year-old TJ.Reuse content