England & Wales Personal and organisational development

Local Leaders: Cllr Chris Robbins, Waltham Forest Council


This blog is part of our Local Leaders series – a collection of articles that focus on new approaches in local government.

If the scenes of disorder we witnessed across the country this summer have taught us anything, it’s that communities are incredibly resilient in the face of adversity.

But in dealing with the aftermath, the message from residents and businesses here in Waltham Forest is clear: they’ve had enough of crime on the streets, and enough of gang violence.

This is why Waltham Forest was working towards tackling gang crime – so often the cause of wider criminal activity – before youth violence hit national headlines. Our landmark project, Enough is Enough, is effective, cost-efficient and already yielding promising results.

Enough is Enough is intelligence-led and seeks to bring about long-term change. It works by offering targeted support to those most involved – or most at risk of becoming involved – with gangs and is underpinned by robust police enforcement and a series of measures which aim to strengthen local communities.

The council, police and community have come together in a way not seen before.

Key to this is our Family Partnership Team, which works with individuals, families and communities involved in or affected by gangs.

Their intensive support means that they’re not just helping people to a better life but also supporting older and younger generations of the same family to make better choices.

This work is strengthened by the A Better Way Partnership, a group which comprises local voluntary groups, community members and public agencies to ensure that intelligence is shared and that there’s a collective responsibility for delivery.

So far, nearly 30 families have been identified for intervention and 80 per cent have agreed to work with us. Young people have started attending college or training courses, secured apprenticeships and successfully gained employment as a result.

Even parents have entered training and the job market, some for the first time in their lives. The benefits speak for themselves: the drop in crime experienced in the first six months of our programme is estimated to have saved the taxpayer £2.3m. This is set against an estimated cost of £21,000 to put one family through a tailored programme.

Our work is gaining recognition. Elements of Waltham Forest’s approach can be seen in the government’s recently-announced gangs strategy, which, like ours, places a heavy emphasis on prevention and ‘pathways out’ as well as partnership and cross-agency working.

The implementation of any national strategy must obviously reflect local needs and circumstances, and local authorities should be government’s main ally in getting this right.

Yet, as we in Waltham Forest have seen even over the past few months, the hard work of joined-up and committed partners delivers real results if adequate resources are in place. We must invest to save.

In the worst economic times Waltham Forest has invested almost £1m of new money to the programme this year alone, and we expect to equal that amount next year and the year after.

It is a concern that the government has only announced £1.2m of new money to support its entire gang strategy – almost the same as we have committed for just one year.

While the work of the police and the local community is invaluable, I firmly believe that only local authorities can comprehensively lead on gang prevention. Waltham Forest’s project has demonstrated this, and the wider social costs of gang activity make it a social and political imperative for all of us.

There are early signs that there was less disorder in Waltham Forest this summer than in neighbouring boroughs because of our strategy. Intelligence was critical to the borough’s response to the riots, and thanks to the excellent relationships that we have built up with the police and the community reliable, up-to-the-minute information was a valuable tool at our disposal.

In other words, we’re beginning to put prevention into practice.