Gavin Lockhart

Unconvincing on crime

Unconvincing on crime
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How fitting that in the week that dozens of MPs have been accused of defrauding taxpayers, Gordon Brown has today decided to make his first ever keynote speech on crime. The speech comes nine months after the Prime Minister last warned that crime would rise in the downturn, and was briefed as “an attempt to update Labour’s discredited slogan, tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’.  It also comes just a day after a new report by Policy Exchange laid bare the Government’s abject failure to deliver on this sound bite and revealed that crime costs every household in the UK around £3,000 a year.

Much of this morning’s speech was a re-announcement of measures contained within the 2008 Youth Crime Action Plan or the Community Justice Green Paper, published a fortnight ago. (Although Brown got the publication date wrong.) The consultation period for the paper was supposed to run until the end of July, but this morning Brown pre-empted the consultation period, announcing the go-ahead for a £4 million scheme to give the public more of a say over how criminal assets seized by the Government are spent. There were no details about what this would mean in practice, and the sum pales into insignificance compared to the £130 million spent to refurbish the MoJ headquarters. Brown’s expansion of the pilots of family based crime prevention programmes should also be welcomed even if we have heard it before. And links between courts and police custody suites are effective but were started in 2007.

Brown is also just plain wrong about a number of issues. For example, his argument that CCTV improves safety contradicts Government research. A 2005 Home Office study concluded that “CCTV cannot be deemed a success. It has cost a lot of money and it has not produced the anticipated benefits”.  The same study also found negligible increases in public confidence and changes in behaviour (How gun offences are a “new type of crime” is unclear: the 1671 Game Act first regulated firearms in England).

But speaking at Chelsea football ground, the Prime Minster did suggest two sensible new policies: improved powers to seize ill-gotten gains from organised criminal gangs and more ‘community payback’. But he did not address the fact that the agency designed to prevent organised crime, SOCA, only recovered £46 million of criminal assets seized by it last year – equivalent to a tenth of its annual budget. The agency has also caught few criminals. In the words of someone close to the organisation, “it has failed to jail”. And stories today about SOCA’s impact on drug running should be treated with caution - the rising street price of cocaine probably has more to do with the weak pound than better enforcement. If the organisation is, as Brown said, ‘here to stay’, it needs urgent reform.

All in all then, for his first major speech on crime, it was a huge let-down; a mixture of re-announcements, tinkering pilot initiatives and gimmicks, delivered with the enthusiasm of a man watching concrete being poured into his boots.

Gavin Lockhart is Head of Policy Exchange’s Crime and Justice Unit