Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Accelerated response

Lambeth was already gearing up to hand power to the community to tackle gang culture. In the wake of the riots, it is moving even faster.

Violent youth gangs played a significant role in the looting and disorder in August. Even David Cameron has finally woken up to the need to tackle the scourge of youth gangs, though his cuts targeted on poorer urban areas will hinder this. The government slashed funding for youth offending teams by 23 per cent earlier this year, bringing to an end numerous projects tackling gangs, and one of Boris Johnson’s early acts as mayor of London was to cut by 90 per cent the anti-gang pathways project that directly confronted gang members. You reap what you sow.

In Lambeth we are taking a radical new approach to tackling gang violence based on the insight that the worst-affected communities are central to any lasting solution. We aim to be the first council to put the community in charge of tackling violent youth crime instead of subjecting them to top-down strategies whose only success is in grabbing quick headlines.

An extraordinary meeting of community leaders held just days before looters ransacked Brixton heard the community tell the council ‘we are ready to lead’. Participants heard harrowing stories of the dangers facing young people who are targeted by violent youth gangs. Rosemarie Mallett from Brixton-based Word Against Weapons talked about how girls as young as nine are sexualised by older gang members who force them to stand in sexual poses and threaten them with violence, and even rape, if they refuse to comply. Many young people from poorer communities join gangs because they are threatened with violent assault if they do not. Once engaged they are expected to show their loyalty by getting involved in escalating levels of criminality, from small-scale theft and drug dealing to serious violence which may involve guns.

In response to the community’s demands, we plan a radical transfer of power and resources from the council to the community. This will be a significant early example of Lambeth’s cooperative council in action.

Youth centres and council funding will be moved into a community trust led by figures from the worst-affected neighbourhoods. The trust will pool its resources with whatever is already available in the community, including voluntary sector schemes and community-led initiatives. Each neighbourhood or estate will then be offered professional support to analyse their own specific needs and choose what services they want, including better parenting support, help for dysfunctional families, youth activities, employment initiatives, or peer mentoring schemes. People in each neighbourhood will choose the services they need, which organisation will provide them, and how they should be run, all within the budget that the community trust makes available to them.

This model of community empowerment will give people the chance to take back control over what happens to their young people. Their insights, as parents, neighbours or young people, will shape the kind of support available to their community. Instead of being told by professionals what will happen to them, the professionals will be put under the control of the community.  After years of top-down services and unsuccessful, imposed interventions that have left them feeling powerless, the community will get the chance to lead, providing us with a real chance of getting vulnerable young people out of gangs and giving them back their future.


Steve Reed is leader of Lambeth council


Photo: Jack Hynes

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Steve Reed MP

is shadow minister for Home Affairs and a vice-chair of Progress


  • “in two weeks a teenager who is stopped and searched by police on the streets of Brixton and found with a small amount of cannabis will be sent on their way with nothing more than a formal warning” from Is Brixton The New Amsterdam . Evening Standard 18.6.01

  • That was nearly ten years ago, back when Brian Paddick (now openly a Lib Dem) as borough police commander conducted his disastrous experiment effectively decriminalising cannabis in Lambeth while its sale continued to be suppressed in neighbouring boroughs. Of course, all the drug dealers and buyers poured into Lambeth. We put a stop to that many years ago and now have tough measures that have significantly reduced the drug trade on Brixton’s streets.

  • Isn’t there a danger here of collusion between local and central state? Both Conservative cuts and new Labour politics will result in a hands off approach to the problems of gang culture which have been bought into the spotlight by the recent disorders ? Surely the key issue is the effectiveness of strategies from police, probation, youth and community services. Steve is launching a brave new initiative but how will be able to measure it’s effectiveness down the line? Community engagement is vital but will the community be left carrying the can? Effective engagement with the community especially those communities with high levels of deprivation requires a high level of resources. Where are these resources to come from? Not from Dave, not from Boris and I suspect not from Steve either!

  • So. councillor Reed, your solution to tackling gang culture is to end the “top-down” approach to funding (a very Cameron-like attitude) and give all the scarce resources to groups of amateurs (covering a wide range from expertly professional to incompetent and subversive). What you are saying is that long established bodies like town councils, the police and care services are no longer ‘fit for purpose’ and that the answer to all our problems is in the hands of what you erroneously describe as “community leaders”. This is the perfect Cameron definition of the “Big Society”!
    The weakness of your argument is clear when you look at the facts. Firstly, solving complex problems is far more likely achieved by professional experts having a long history of expertise in the area rather than local ‘have-a-go’ volunteers strong on enthusiasm but weak on insight. I’d rather have professionally trained police protecting my neighbourhood than a disparate group of vigilantes. I’d much prefer my children to be taught by qualified teachers rather than by energetic ignoramuses. Would you prefer to be surgically operated on by a medic of many years intensive professional training or by some local butcher issued with a medical tool-kit thanks to your town council?
    Secondly, I sniff the cowardly odour of ‘Pontius Pilate’ from people like you who want to rush into the role of ‘resource facilitator’ rather than acknowledge your own past indifference. What is the point of having elected councillors if they fail to address and solve community problems? There is something fundamentally wrong with a council that is on top of issues like ‘parking zones’ or ‘business rates’ but is totally ignorant and sterile on matters of ‘council estate gangs’ and ‘neighbourhood vandalism’. The problems of ‘antisocial behaviours’ or ‘no-go areas’ in Lambeth (or any local authority) are primarily the responsibility of the council and its leader. Passing that responsibilty to amateurs with an assortment of personal and political agendas is “passing the buck” irresponsibly (if not illegally).
    I believe that many of the growing social problems we face today are the consequence of poor management at council level. Failure of council leaders to acknowledge the problem. Failure to make any serious effort to address the problem. Failure to engage with local citizens for support and intelligence. Failure to co-ordinate services within and without authorities to find solutions.
    It seems to me that Steve Reed wants to continue to avoid responsibilty for his actions by funding non-representative groups with tax-payers money. I have heard the views of some of these so-called “community leaders” (approved and funded by councils) and am aghast at the bigoted views expressed – often anti-police and racist: another example of incompetent local governemnt management incapable of sorting the wheat from the chaff.
    If you want a proper solution to local woes look no further than yourself. Do the job you were elected to do and perhaps our communities will become decent areas in which to live.

  • yup, energetic ignoramuses who are licensed to kill ; the Tories new promotion ! bringing in ‘the army’ to teach ,why because they are shutting the armed forces down ? What an answer to discipline ,fear of physical violence – two wrongs don’t make a right .Why do the Tories think this savage solution will do ? because they consider most of ‘the people ‘ to be savages. Only the truly ignorant continue to even recognise the term ‘savage’;
    The intelligent and humane creative response to engender our new world
    will not come from these throwback Tories who basically spend their life inside their father’s wallet. Of course properly retrained ,vetted by prof essionals,an ex soldier would be as welcome into teaching as anyone else,wouldn’t they. But ,coming out of the woodwork recently have been more of these voices (along with : no to abortion ; dole scroungers who
    refuse to ‘commute’ to getajob, ; ((but please keepbuying my sugar/booze/ /fags/gas/petrol/cheap high turn over clothes/betting slips/etc)) and ,move out we need this land !) ) Where was I ,oh yes…
    the voice : these teachers , load of lefty liberal loafers who teach drivvle
    because that is easier – so we better start a separate school ,hhmmnn,chosen by “locals” and where the curriculum can be chosen and the government “do not expect” (!) creationism to be taught .

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