MP COLUMN: Antisocial behaviour has no home in our towns

With MPs returning to Westminster next week and the new school year beginning, I thought that I should use today’s column to reflect on what has been a busy summer. Over the last six weeks I have visited all corners of the constituency and have been overwhelmed with the wonderful sense of community which we are lucky to have on our doorstop. It has been truly heart-warming to see everyone pulling together in very difficult circumstances, and to meet (while social distancing!) the faces behind many of the stories I have heard through emails or via phone surgeries.

I know for many students, teachers and parents the last few weeks have been particularly difficult. While pupils across Sevenoaks and Swanley have done us all proud with their fantastic results, I do not underestimate how stressful it has been for everyone involved. Over the last few weeks, I have been working with pupils, schools, colleges and universities to help assist with appeals, universities placements or school/college queries. Please do contact me if you need help or advice.

Another topic of the summer has been antisocial behaviour. While the increased cases in Sevenoaks followed a national trend, which was attributed in part to the COVID-19 outbreak and the knock-on effects of the lockdown provisions, this has no home in our community and will not be tolerated.

At the start of the summer, I used this column to launch my four-point plan to help tackle the issue, and while there is still much to do, I am encouraged with the progress we have made over the last eight weeks and wanted to take this opportunity to share an update with you. For clarity and transparency, I will address each point individually:

 

1. Increased police offices on our streets: Following conversations with both the Home Office, Kent Police and our Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Matthew Scott, I was delighted to see the figures published earlier this month which show that Kent Police now has 3,800 serving police officers – which is in fact more than we had in 2010. I give thanks and pay tribute to the investment raised by the PCC, plus the first local recruits of the Government’s 20,000 uplift. The figures are hugely encouraging, but our next challenge is to ensure these new officers are allocated to the Sevenoaks district, and target those areas most in need. Policing was a central pillar of my election pledge in December and you have been clear in your correspondence with me that it’s something you want to see too. I will continue to support Kent Police and Matthew Scott in their work to deliver these officers, as well as look into increasing the number of current Police Community Support Officers (PCSO) – who play a vital role on the frontline and provide a visible and reassuring presence on the streets.

 

2. Action on unauthorised traveller sites: As well as increasing police presence, I am working to ensure our local officers have the powers to act, especially when it comes to addressing unauthorised traveller sites. Following recent cases across the constituency, I have been in communication with the Home Secretary and Minister of Crime and Policing to voice my concerns. The good news is that the Department have launched a consultation on ‘Strengthening police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments’, however the COVID-19 outbreak has delayed the timetable slightly and we are still awaiting the Government’s response. While it is great that the Home Office are proactively looking into the issue, we do not have time to delay and action must be taken sooner rather than later. I will continue to campaign on the topic, and hope progress will be made when the House returns after recess.

 

3. Increased CCTV: As we have discussed before, CCTV plays a significant role as a crime deterrent and helps catch perpetrators. While we already have several mobile CCTV units across the district, more are needed so we can be flexible in our approach. I am keen for town and parish councils to be involved in seeking funding solutions. As part of my ongoing conversations with council leaders I will be raising the issue and am hopeful progress can be made to ensure crime hotspots are covered.

 

4. Resuming evictions of bad behaviour: And finally, it is essential that those who are committing antisocial behaviour are punished – and if necessary evicted. I was disappointed to see the announcement last week that the ban on evictions has been extended for another four weeks without there being an exception made in respect of antisocial behaviour. While I welcomed the emergency measures to protect tenants and their public health during the peak of the virus, it is right that these are now updated so those who are struggling with disruptive neighbours or tenants can take action. I submitted a Written Question to the Minister in June, who assured me an extension was not being considered however this obviously changed over the summer. I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement which confirmed that when courts do resume eviction hearings, they will prioritise the cases involving antisocial behaviour, but this does not help those who have been suffering over the last few months. I will continue to make the case in Parliament.

 

There remains work to do so that the four-point plan is delivered in full, however after eight weeks the changes we have already achieved are taking effect. In May, reported antisocial behaviour across Sevenoaks stood at 348 cases. This dropped to 257 in June, and 220 in July. The task is not over, however these figures already represent a 37% decrease in two months which is progress that cannot be underestimated.

If you witness antisocial behaviour, please do report it. If it’s not an emergency, notify the police by calling 101 or reporting the incident to the council. This can be done either online (using the below link) or by calling 01732 227000. Always call 999 in an emergency.  https://www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/info/20040/community_safety/41/anti-social_behaviour

My office is also on hand to advise and support. Should you have any questions please do email us at laura.trott.mp@parliament.uk.