Row after bid to bring back community wardens in South Tyneside to help tackle antisocial behaviour

South Tyneside councillors have clashed over formal proposals to bring back community wardens.

Friday, 26th November 2021, 5:42 pm
Councillors clashed over the issue of community wardens.

The service was created in the late 1990s initially to respond to antisocial behaviour and low-level crime such as littering and dog fouling.

In a motion tabled at a full meeting of South Tyneside Council on Thursday, November 25, opposition councillors called for the return of community wardens to help tackle antisocial behaviour issues.

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The motion asked for the council to “actively engage” in the process for applications to the Government’s ‘Safer Streets Fund’.

Councillor Glenn Thompson, leader of the South Tyneside Independents Group, said the council had “legal and moral obligations to address anti-social behaviour.”

He told the meeting: “Of course arguments can be made in respect to affordability and what level of antisocial behaviour becomes a police matter but the reality of the situation is that low-level antisocial behaviour is plaguing our borough and this is a council responsibility.”

Councillors from the majority Labour Group stressed work was taking place both locally and regionally to tackle antisocial behaviour, including an ongoing review of the council’s own antisocial behaviour policy.

Councillor Ernest Gibson, cabinet member for area management and community safety, confirmed that Safer Streets funding had already been committed to projects in the North East, including South Tyneside.

He said the council has to make budget savings of £3.5million in 2022/23 and that it would be “challenging to find alternative funding” to re-establish the community warden service.

In addition, the meeting heard that the need of any operational changes would need to be considered alongside the council’s ongoing review.

During debate, opposition councillors hit back at the council’s Labour Group and shared stories of antisocial behaviour incidents in their wards and the wider impact on communities.

Several councillors said community wardens would make people feel safer and deter crime and that resources should be found as antisocial behaviour is a priority issue for residents.

Councillor David Francis, leader of the council’s Green Group, suggested the removal of community wardens was a “short-term saving at a long-term cost.”

Cllr Francis said: “I recognise all of the challenges in this but I do feel that our residents are telling us time and time again that they feel that the cut of the community warden service was a mistake and they would like it reinstated.”

Councillor Ian Forster, Conservative member, added: “Yes it’s difficult and hard decisions have to be made with finances as we come into the new financial year.

“But I really do feel that the priority of wardens and antisocial behaviour should be raised and that the money can be and would be found if this council really wanted to do it.”

Labour councillors pointed to Government austerity and cuts to public services over the years and the impact on both council services and the police.

They added antisocial behaviour remained a priority in South Tyneside and that the council currently has teams doing the same type of work as the wardens.

Labour councillor Ed Malcolm, a former cabinet member for resources and innovation on the council, outlined the history of the community wardens.

Councillors heard that the service was initially funded by the ‘Neighbourhood Renewal Fund’ and originally there were around 20 wardens in South Tyneside.

Although the council continued to fund the community warden service after external funding stopped, the numbers dropped to just six with budget pressures prompting proposals to delete the service in 2019/20.

Cllr Malcolm added the wardens at the time “were not able to do the job that they were originally proposed to do” and that their functions “ceased to have any real clout” due to reduced numbers.

But independent councillor, Glenn Thompson, said impact reports had shown the wardens service was effective and that there was a “strong argument” to bring it back.

Cllr Thompson added that the wardens would help in the response towards low-level antisocial behaviour and that the proposed motion was about “people’s quality of life and safety.”

After being put to the vote, the opposition motion failed to win support across the council chamber.

The final vote included eight votes for the motion and 31 against.