Row over how best to tackle antisocial behaviour in South Tyneside

Councillors have clashed over how best to tackle antisocial behaviour in South Tyneside.

Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 5:26 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th October 2021, 7:16 am
Graffiti was listed among problems facing the borough.

South Tyneside Council’s most recent full meeting at the town hall saw heated debate over a motion looking at the issue and the local authority’s responsibilities around dealing with it.

The council’s antisocial behaviour service is currently linked to South Tyneside Homes, the arms length management organisation created by the council to manage, maintain and improve council-owned homes.

Councillor Angela Hamilton, who resigned from the Labour Group at September’s full council meeting, launched the motion last week with backing from Independent, Green and Conservative opposition councillors.

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The debate took place during a South Tyneside Council meeting.

It proposed a review, including a public consultation and identifying best practice, of the council’s current anti-social behaviour service and to bring a report back to a future council meeting for decision.

This report, the motion stated, would present options for improving the antisocial behaviour service, including an option of bringing it “back in-house.”

Further resolutions included online training for councillors on how to support victims of ASB, lobbying government for additional funding for Community Safety Partnerships and working with police and partners to increase CCTV coverage in antisocial behaviour hotspots.

Councillor Ernest Gibson, cabinet member for area management and community safety on the Labour-run council, asked Cllr Hamilton to withdraw the motion and set out existing work the council was involved in.

This included a review of the council’s anti-social behaviour policy already being under way, wider strategic partnership work with police and other agencies, emerging plans for a regional anti-social behaviour taskforce, the planned roll-out of more efficient deployable cameras in South Tyneside and ‘see it report it’ cards being delivered to residents.

Cllr Gibson added that tackling anti-social behaviour was a “priority of the council and its partners” but that criminal activities such as drug dealing, car break-ins and attempted burglaries were the responsibility of the police.

During debate on the motion, several councillors gave accounts of their own experiences looking into antisocial behaviour issues on behalf of ward residents.

Independent councillor Paul Milburn praised the recent work of the South Tyneside Homes tenancy enforcement team in his ward but said this was the “thin end of the wedge.”

Cllr Milburn went on to say: “We know who these people are in these tenancy enforcement cases and where they live.

“My biggest concern is people whose identities we can’t confirm, the people who frequent our unlit parks and green spaces in the hours of darkness, those wearing hoods and masks trying car doors.

“The graffiti ‘artists’ that present our borough in a very bad light, the people that trudge around our green space leaving behind a trail of discarded plastic bottles after inhaling god knows what, the ever-present illegal motorcycles causing havoc in our side streets and green spaces.”

He added: “I applaud the Community Safety Partnership for having policies and strategies in place but we need to see some physical actions that are within our remit.”

Councillor David Francis, leader of the council’s Green Group, added that many other local authorities deal with anti-social behaviour issues in-house rather than through their housing teams.

While noting the “financial implications” of changing current arrangements in South Tyneside, he said it was important to make sure that anti-social behaviour services were “adequately resourced and fit for purpose.”

During the meeting, statistics about anti-social behaviour in the borough were disputed, with some noting the impact of Covid-19 on the way incidents were reported.

Some opposition councillors also pointed towards the impact of previous council decisions on anti-social behaviour issues- including reducing the number of CCTV cameras and removing the community warden service in the 2019/20 budget.

At the close of debate, Labour councillor Angela Hamilton outlined her reasons for refusing to withdraw the motion and called for a named vote.

She said that she had not been informed of the wider antisocial behaviour work in the borough, such as the regional taskforce, when she circulated the motion to other councillors for comment in September.

Cllr Hamilton added: “I absolutely know that residents in this borough across every ward are really genuinely concerned about anti-social behaviour and they want us to work with them – that’s the important bit of this motion.

“If you had stood up there and said to me I commit to having a consultation and working with the public I would have withdrawn the motion – but I need that commitment.”

After being put to a vote, the motion failed to win support across the council chamber with nine votes in favour and 38 against.

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