Friday, 17 June 2011

UPDATED: Mayor of London Boris Johnson and youth violence: It’s not a matter of commitment. It’s a matter of competence.

Day by day the body bags of those murdered mount up. In Lambeth we are in the grip of a small war among warring gangs.

With serious youth violence threatening to escalate out of control in certain areas of London I was reminded of the Mayor of London’s Boris Johnsons manifesto commitment to “end the scourge of youth violence “in the capital. I have to say that I was personally impressed by his vision. Boris was as usual eloquent on the issue and I sensed deep down he was both sincere and honourable in his concern and determination to make this a top priority. The Mayor launched his radical proposal in a policy document that set out his proposals entitled “Time for Action”

His vision delivered with much passion, vim and vigour outlined his commitment to get his wealthy chums in the city to contribute millions to his Mayoral Fund launched in April 2009. The fund stated that it:

“…aims to improve the life chances and aspirations of disadvantaged children, young people and their families in London.”

The Mayor was to use his influence with the city of London to secure sponsorship of boxing gyms and youth academies across the capital. That has not happened, the City has not responded to the Mayors invitation, as Boris has recently admitted speaking to the London Evening Standard. At the publication of his strategy in November 2008 he announced:

 "Tackling serious youth crime and the tragic murders of young people has been my most immediate priority since becoming Mayor.
"My action plan will provide the London-wide leadership and coordination that has so far been absent in tackling youth crime."
The Mayoral Fund has been a flop. No real appetite from the City other than a couple of major companies. Unbelievably the fund has spent huge sums of money on consultancies and administration in its first years of existence; far more than it did on funding youth initiatives. The projects that have been supported are quite small and not sufficiently funded to be rolled out across the most seriously affected boroughs in London.
Bizarrely all of the projects funded are in that well known gang hotspot Shoreditch! Over 80% of the Mayors Fund total budget in its first year of operation was spent on management consultants and administration.
I recently attended one of the Mayors Community Conversations in Peckham and there the Mayor publically admitted that  ‘we are not where we want to be in relation to the Mayors fund” and that “we are behind schedule but working hard to catch up”. The fact is the Mayor is so far behind on this issue he is out of sight.
As a result, other than tenuous claims to success gained by funding existing initiatives and badging them as Mayors fund deliverables, nothing much has been achieved. The Mayoral Fund remains one of the Mayors largest personal vanity projects.
The fund: “Time for Action" has been spectacularly unsuccessful of late in reducing the level of serious youth violence in the most affected London boroughs. No one really knows what “Time for Action” is really all about, what it involves or how successful it has been. Whatever the assessment there can be no doubt that however well intentioned the Mayor is, he has failed to deliver on his top line manifesto commitment.
Whilst he is not short on policy he is a day late and a dollar short on implementation. His Time for Action policy contains some excellent proposals, however the Mayor, having taken his eye off the ball now finds himself with one hell of a resurgent problem. The signature statement of his administration has been a distinct lack of policy innovation and one of the few policies that he can claim as his own has simply  not see the light of day. The Mayor seems to be incapable of implementing in any meaningful way his own flag ship policy.
Whilst the policy flounders in the doldrums, young people continue to die on the streets of London.
No doubt the Mayor will claim success in relation to the reduction in the official crime figure relating to levels of violence and youth murders. The problem for him is that in London there is no relationship between the official figures on gun and knife murders and how safe people feel on the streets. If one child gets shot or other innocent bystanders are killed in a drive by the whole capital feels unsafe regardless of the figures.

To be fair the massive increase in the police use of stop and search powers at the behest of Boris and delivered by the MPS as part of their anti knife strategy Blunt 2 coincided with a temporary reduction in these crimes. The problem with this approach is that it is not sustainable over the long term and there is little evidence that schemes like Blunt actually work.

Poor quality stops, incivility from aggressive and sometimes racist police officers have increased alienation among young black people; the very people they are trying to protect and youth violence is back on its remorseless rise.

In relation to the effectiveness of stop and search an in depth study by conducted by Professor Fitzgerald, of Kent University,
analysed Met stop and search statistics from April to October 2009 and concluded there was "no absolute proof that the tactic is of any use".

The statistics showed that during that period 13,247 stop and searches were carried out in Newham, east London, when knife crime fell by 7.7%.  In Islington, north London, 840 searches were carried out and knife crime fell by 24.8%.

But knife crime rose by 8.6% in Southwark despite 9,437 searches being carried out, and it rose by 6% in Waltham Forest, east London, despite 3,123 searches.

The same can be said for many other London boroughs such as Lambeth where we have seen a year on year increase in rates of serious youth violence.

Further more, whole communities in some areas, including young people and their parents, are now living in a climate of fear. Parents are terrified for their children and despite some falls in youth violence across the capital there remains a residual core of inner London boroughs where the problem continues to get worse. These areas feel abandoned and increasingly undermined in their desperate plight to create safer communities.

The overall murder rate can drop but if a small number of young people are spraying machine guns on the streets of London, if young children are getting shot and innocent teenagers are being murdered in the cross fire of warring gangs, then I’m afraid that such reductions are largely academic in terms of how safe Londoners feel.

These killings are stylised public executions designed to instil fear in the public. They are ritualised killings designed to send a message and that message is loud and clear: it is the gangs not the community or the police that run London’s streets. That’s the code on the road.

As if to dramatically reinforce that message those committing the murders show a dangerous and reckless disregard for public safety, the rule of law and Boris Johnson. Public executions, gang murder in broad daylight, witnesses killed and set alight in burning cars, children getting shot. It’s a 'fuck you' statement from the boys on the road.

Playgrounds are empty, children are escorted everywhere, teenagers stay indoors fearing to go out at night or even visit another area of London. The quality of life is desperately poor.

The fear of crime is not really influenced by the official crime statistics, all of which are viewed with great suspicion by the majority of the public. It is usually the nature of violent criminality that alarms. So whilst figures will be dropping in the official figures, a shooting of a child or the discharge in a public space of a Mac 10 machine gun will hugely increase the fear of crime whatever the official figures may say.

The other important aspect of assessing the reality of serious youth crime is the number of unreported serious violence injuries that are recorded by hospitals A&E departments, but are not reported as crimes. In London there are huge levels of underreporting of youth violence as it presents at local hospitals and this masks the extent of the true picture. There would of course be more deaths if not for the skill of surgeons. The conclusion is that the situation is much worse than the official figures suggest.

The combined effects of increased rates of serious wanton violence, high tech and apparently easily available weaponry, lived experience of violence by communities, disbelief in the official figures, rising unemployment, reductions in policing and cuts to youth services  are all combining to create an environment for the prefect political storm for a Mayor who talks a good talk but seems incapable of implementing his own policies. With a meagre budget of £4.5 million the message is clear and unambiguous. There is zero confidence or willingness in the City for the Mayors' programmes.

Even the Mayors' most welcomed mentor scheme seems unlikely to be able to deliver. The University of East London and London action Trust 2 organisations that were brought together as I understand by the Mayors' Office and offered the Mentors contacts even though they each bid separately. They are not a black led bid nor do these organisations appear to have the necessary experience or expertise.  I think that’s potentially illegal.

Black led bids to deliver this project were rejected in favour of these two white organisations one of which, London Action Trust, of which Boris Johnson is the patron. Both organisations lack the competence, the credibility and track record to work with the kind of ‘hard knock’ black boys that are members of gangs or at risk.

In any event given they are unlikely to start work until September, given the summer break and assuming that the Mayoral election purdah period will kick in early in the new year, the Mayor has left it too late to have much chance of achieving any degree of success before the 2012 Mayoral elections.

It does not take three years to determine that mentoring is a good idea and then completely mishandle the procurement process in such a cack handed manner. To complete the tragic picture there is prima facie evidence that the procurement process may well have been illegal and may yet be subject to legal challenge.

The Mayors failure is not one of commitment, I think that is genuinely accepted by most. The critical failure here is the area of competence. The Mayor failed in his attempt to get any traction with London wide implementation of his “Time for Action “policy. He has failed to any raise any substantial funds from the rich bankers and wealthy. He is cutting police officer numbers and lost hundreds of millions of pounds of LDA funding that was a source of regeneration funds.

His strategy is now left in tatters as local authorities decimate youth services and close down much needed voluntary sector community resources. Reductions in police officer numbers in the context of rising youth unemployment are likely to see increases in levels of violence not reductions. Communities are becoming increasingly angry and cynical as a result of the continued failures, despite the promise of the Mayor to tackle this issue. I said in the Mayoral elections of 2008 that the Mayor should avoid trying to make political capital out of the tragedy of youth violence; sadly he did not heed that advice. I stated that if he did then this issue would come back to haunt him and it looks like Boris is about to get hoisted with his own petard. The sky is dark with chickens coming home to roost.

(Updated 14th July 2011)
Boris Johnson visits Brixton Road Youth Centre in Lambeth
 Boris Johnson visits Brixton Road Youth Centre in Lambeth in 2008