Strength in numbers
In a UK first, 30 Greater Manchester housing associations are joining forces with police to fight crime and reduce anti-social behaviour. Helen Clifton reports
Although there has been a huge 9 per cent drop to 133,848 incidents of anti-social behaviour in Greater Manchester since 2012, there is still one reported incident every four minutes - the highest number outside London.
But 30 of the region’s social landlords - which together own around 260,000 homes, with half a million tenants - are determined to break the cycle.
On 19 November, they will sign up to the UK’s first ever formal agreement between housing associations, arm’s-length management organisations and the police to share intelligence, resources, and develop best practice in the fight against crime.
Rather than a new beginning, the signatories of the crime concordat say the agreement is the culmination of years of ground-breaking partnership work taking place throughout the region.
Sheila Doran, chief executive of Eastlands Homes in east Manchester, which has signed up to the concordat, says the agreement demonstrates to communities that there is a strong commitment to tackling crime. ‘It is a three-way partnership [between housing associations, residents and the police] that supports the residents to have increased confidence to report crime. Housing associations are so well-placed. This is a real platform to do more.’
‘It is a natural progression. There is quite a strong ethos of partnership working in Greater Manchester and this formalises it,’ explains Sue Sutton, director of customer and neighbourhood services at Salford Council’s 10,800-home arm’s-length management organisation, Salix Homes. ‘We already have an excellent relationship with Greater Manchester Police.’
Knowledge is key
Under the concordat, Greater Manchester’s divisional chief superintendents will share their annual police priorities for tackling crime, based on official data, with local social landlords. These will then feed into future business plans, allowing the housing associations and ALMOs to better focus resources and tackle ASB hotspots.
Although community safety partnerships already exist in all 10 of Greater Manchester’s boroughs, the concordat puts social landlords in a better position to comply with the new Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which is expected to come into force in April.
The bill, which demands that police work more closely with housing associations and local authorities, also hands landlords more eviction powers.
‘This concordat is putting us ahead of what the bill will require,’ says Ashley Crumbley, chief executive of 22,600-home ALMO Wigan and Leigh Housing.
The idea for the agreement first came about five months ago, following a discussion between Mr Crumbley and Wigan chief superintendent Shaun Donnellan.
It was put forward by the Greater Manchester Chief Executive Group of Housing Association and ALMO Leaders, an organisation that meets bi-monthly and is working on a number of new partnerships, including a joint carbon reduction project with Manchester Council.
Greater Manchester’s police and crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd, says the concordat neatly reflects GMP’s new focus on crime prevention. ‘In one sense, it’s common sense,’ he says. ‘We know that making our communities safer and making people feel safe in their own homes is not just a job for any one organisation.
‘Early intervention is better than later intervention. It’s about sharing knowledge to make that happen, at no extra cost, with nobody asking anybody to do more than what they are already doing.
‘[Social landlords] can evict people - police can’t,’ says Mr Lloyd. ‘Police can arrest - [social landlords] can’t. By agreeing a common viewpoint about who does what and when, you increase the effectiveness of the services.’
It was hoped that the introduction of 41 PCCs across England and Wales, who from November last year have been responsible for all commissioning and funding of policing and community safety activity in their areas, could herald more funding for social landlords working in these areas.
Yet the concordat will not bring any extra cash. ‘I simply can’t promise extra resources. I wish I could say there is a pot of gold to give away. But there isn’t,’ Mr Lloyd says.
GMP has had to make savings of £134 million between 2011 and 2015, cutting around 3,000 jobs. In such a climate, partnership working could be seen as a good way to cut costs.
But the concordat is not asking landlords to take on extra responsibilities, says the Greater Manchester PCC. ‘Housing associations dealing with their responsibilities should already be doing this kind of work. Every agency is under financial pressure. So we have to find more creative ways of working as there aren’t enough people on the ground.’
In Salford, for example, Salix Homes, GMP and Salford Council are working together as the Salford Community Safety Partnership and established a multi-agency hub in council-owned offices in Swinton Civic Centre in December, with funding from the Home Office’s ending gang and youth violence programme.
The hub is home to anti-gang and serious crime initiative, ‘project gulf’, a partnership between Salix Homes, which has a full-time early intervention and prevention officer based there as well as seven GMP officers. In total there are 21 full-time employees based at the hub and nine part-time. Housing association City West has one housing officer based there on a part-time basis, and charity Women’s Aid has one staff member there one day a week.
The Department for Work and Pensions, the Probation Service, Salford Adult Mental Health Service and the NHS also have staff onsite.
The team share intelligence on problem tenants and carry out joint visits, both before and after arrest warrants are issued. The system enables Salix and City West to intervene to stop criminal behaviour escalating. They work together with their partners at the hub to tackle issues including truancy, debt issues, benefit problems, or finding a job.
‘There are really clear benefits. It’s like an “early warning system” for problematic tenants,’ Ms Sutton explains. ‘It’s not just about enforcement - it’s about supporting people where we can. Five different agencies may be working with that person, but actually only one agency needs to take the lead.
‘A lot of the people who the police deal with wouldn’t necessarily be on our radar. And the community wouldn’t report them because they are fearful. Now, they are on our radar at an early stage,’ she adds.
Tenant Graham Worrall, who sits on Salix’s board says the close working relationship between the ALMO and local policing teams has had a positive effect on the Salford area. ‘In the past there have been issues with abandoned cars, drug dealing and youths hanging around causing nuisance, but now all agencies are working better together it is dealt with swiftly. It’s now a much better and safer place to live.’
Applying for grants
Although the concordat is primarily about using existing resources like this multi-agency hub, rather than finding new funding streams, landlords agree that the partnership strengthens their ability to apply for grants.
‘I think having a consortium which has consistency means we could pool resources to get some shared resources,’ Ms Sutton says. ‘Because we are already working together, we can demonstrate a much higher volume of efficiency.’
Mr Crumbley says there is ‘very much’ scope for shared applications for funding. But he adds that social landlords should see spending on community safety and tackling crime as an investment.
‘Social housing is about much more than housing. It’s about giving something back. But I can also see the business case. Since 2002, we have spent £230 million on improving our 22,500 homes. What we are trying to do is increase the quality of life on our estates and really improve and protect our investments.’
This summer, Wigan and Leigh Housing spent £1,200 on two body cameras for use by local police community support officers employed by the GMP. Using footage gathered by the cameras, the landlord was awarded a 12-month final injunction order against an aggressive and intimidating tenant. It is now considering rolling out the body cameras across their estates.
And in February, the landlord’s Atherton tenant area forum used £3,000 from the landlord’s better neighbourhood fund to pay for Wigan Athletic’s community outreach Kickz project to run football sessions on the Trees estate. Recorded incidents of ASB dropped by an impressive 51 per cent between February 2013 and September 2013.
Mr Lloyd says this sort of results-driven collaboration benefits everyone. ‘It empowers individual police officers to know that they are forming closer working relationships with housing associations.
‘And it’s not just theory. We have some really good examples. It’s about taking a different kind of approach.’
Case study: Eastlands Homes
Eastlands Homes, which owns around 8,000 properties throughout east and south east Manchester, works closely with the police in a number of ways.
In 2012, it introduced its concern card procedure. This makes it easier for housing officers to identify and report to Manchester social services or Eastlands’ own community safety team any issue that could pose a risk to any tenant, whether it is an adult, child, or Eastlands employee.
Eastlands shares the information reported with Greater Manchester Police, as well as Manchester Council’s adult social care and children’s services, which then take action.
There have been around 140 referrals since the scheme began, with 27 in the past three months alone. Eight of these have now been referred to social services.
Eastlands’ staff did initially worry about retribution from individuals who have been reported to the police or social services, but they have found this hasn’t been an issue.
In addition, Eastlands has a team of three neighbourhood wardens on patrol seven days a week who work with local police officers.
Last summer, an outbreak of anti-social behaviour in Coverdale, south Manchester, led to a joint operation. Eastlands issued a number of tenancy and acceptable behaviour agreements, and Greater Manchester Police increased its patrols.
Residents received a leaflet to reassure them action was being taken and encourage them to report any incidents. The number of live ASB cases in the area has now reduced from 20 to seven between July and September 2013. ‘It just shows that if you work together you can have a much greater impact. We are very proud of our relationship with the police,’ says Sheila Doran, chief executive of Eastlands Hom
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