Will the Newlove report gather dust?
When Helen (Conservative Baroness) Newlove was introduced to the media last November as the government's "champion for active, safer communities", the Home Secretary Theresa May said:
"I look forward to seeing the results of her work which will help us all build safer and more confident communities free from crime and anti-social behaviour."
Was there an expectation that the report the Home Office had commissioned from the widow of murdered father Garry Newlove might lead to ministerial action on dealing with the kind of anti-social behaviour that ultimately led to her husband's tragic death?
Certainly, Lady Newlove must have heard sceptical voices suggesting her efforts would be ignored, because in introducing her list of proposals today she says this:
"To cynics who may be saying 'here we go again, another set of recommendations, another report to gather dust' I'd like them to remember the spirit that sustained, then rebuilt this shattered country during and after the war."
Lady Newlove makes it clear that her recommendations are "to government, to local agencies and to communities". Most of her ideas would seem to require at least Home Office or government support. Some are already coalition policies. I have highlighted the ones that I think would probably require ministerial backing.
• Community reward - where information provided by the community leads to a conviction the community is given a reward to spend on crime prevention work;
• Bling back - where money made from selling local drug dealers' assets is handed back to the neighbourhood they blighted;
• letting communities set their own local speed limits;
• taking crime maps to the next level so people can use them to report crime and ASB (anti-social behaviour) and agencies can publish details of what action was taken against offenders;
• giving the public a single point of contact through the roll out of the 101 number to report ASB;
These measures could be achieved without central government support:
• providing council tax rebates, or vouchers for local businesses and services, for people who take part in activism;
• asking Police and Crime Commissioners to commit at least one per cent of their budget to grass roots community groups to use or have a say on;
• encouraging public servants to go out into communities, volunteering their time and expertise to support local groups;
• pooling agencies' budgets, giving communities a choice in how it is spent; and
• changing the '9 to 5' culture of local agencies so they are there to respond when people need them most.
So what is the response of the home secretary to the Newlove recommendations? The Home Office was not sure whether Theresa May had read the report yet but said this to me:
"It is not one of those reports that we immediately respond to. We will look at it."
No minister was available for interview on the subject, but a short statement from the Minister for Crime Prevention James Brokenshire ran as follows:
"Since her appointment Baroness Newlove has been working tirelessly to inspire, challenge, support and learn from areas across the country. I look forward to seeing how her report will help to shape how we approach community activism in the future."
I suspect, in time, Mr Brokenshire will tell us that "taking crime maps to the next level" and "giving the public a single point of contact through the roll out of the 101 number" are great ideas. They are already Home Office policy.
But what about "Bling back" and "Community reward"? The Home Office told me the government was not convinced about the effectiveness of "directives from central government, particularly around anti-social behaviour". But I wonder if the power to implement such policies really could be devolved to local level.
Ministers have always seen the Newlove report as aimed at the grass roots not at themselves. It is a classic example of what the new "post-bureaucratic age" of localism and the Big Society looks like.