Our latest report looks at Community Safety in Wales, report author Nick Selwyn takes a look at the report and tries to unravel the complex web of community safety in Wales.
Community safety is a term we all use regularly and it is often judged a priority – often the top priority – for action by public bodies in Wales. Look at the results of public opinion surveys and you’ll find keeping people safe and tackling crime are often identified by Welsh citizens as their major priorities for public bodies to address.
However, ask someone to either define what it means, set out who is responsible for addressing community safety and how community safety is currently managed and you’ll not get two answers the same.
At its most basic, community safety relates to people’s sense of personal security and their feelings of safety in relation to where they live, work and spend their leisure time. However, because community safety covers so many different aspects of life, it is often hard to define exactly what it is, the services that contribute to delivering it and ultimately, who is responsible for addressing it.
Sifting for an answer
Just think about the range of different public services that contribute to community safety. Firstly there is the Police who have many varied and important roles in keeping us all safe from responding to calls from the public to neighbourhood policing and dealing with traffic incidents. Then there are Fire and Rescue services and health bodies, such as the Welsh Ambulance Service, whose main work is around keeping people safe in their home and dealing with emergencies that threaten life and limb.
And then there are the many services provided by local councils that contribute directly to improving community safety. These include diverse areas such dealing with neighbour nuisance complaints; keeping streets and communal areas clean and free from rubbish and fly tipping; emergency planning teams who coordinate and put in place plans for flooding and heavy snow; licensing officers who help maintain public order and oversee the work of food businesses; and social services and education who do much to safeguard and ensure the well-being of vulnerable members of our society. These are just some of the different services that councils provide that contribute to community safety.
That’s not surprising. It’s as clear as mud!
In 2015-16 we undertook an audit looking at the work of the key national, regional and local bodies with responsibilities for managing community safety in Wales – the Welsh Government, the Home Office Wales team, Police and Crime Commissioners and local councils. Our review, published on October 18th, found that despite the best endeavours of these different bodies to address community safety, the current arrangements are far from perfect.
Policy responsibilities for community safety are split between the UK Government – who is accountable for policing matters – and the Welsh Government who is answerable for the bulk of local authority services in Wales, as well as the Fire and Rescue authorities and Health Boards. The Welsh and UK Governments approach to community safety are however developing in different ways and are not always joined up.
Local policing in Wales is delivered via four police forces and four Police and Crime Commissioners who take their lead from Home Office. To be truly effective the Police need to work with local authorities because local government is responsible for managing the local community safety partnerships. Community safety partnerships operate at a local authority, not police force, level. The guidance for partnerships is produced by the Home Office but the bulk of public funding to local authorities comes from Welsh Government.
We also found that there are a myriad of national, regional and local plans for community safety in Wales but these are not consistently aligned to make best use of resources and maximise impact. Some community safety plans are not underpinned by good quality information and have not been updated to reflect changing patterns and trends in community safety, whilst others remain too ambitious and undeliverable. Only 18 per cent of citizens who responded to our public survey stated that they felt that local plans focused on addressing the most important community safety issues.
In real terms – taking into account inflation – spending on policing and local authority management and coordination of community safety has fallen. The amount of grant monies provided by Welsh Government to support public bodies in tackling community safety is growing but the complexities of the overall funding regime for community safety – Home Office, Police and Crime Commissioners and Welsh Government grants – is too short-term and complicated which is reducing opportunities to improve value for money.
Dragging it all out of the mud
Judging how organisations are improving community safety is difficult. There are no statutory indicators or measures for community safety and performance is primarily based on Police records and survey findings. Whilst these suggest that crime is now starting to rise after a long period of reported crime falling, crime data has historically not been reliable. In addition, citizens feel less safe than they did last year and only 10 per cent are confident that those responsible for community safety are doing a good job.
In short our findings show that all public bodies at all levels with a responsibility for community safety need to do a lot more if they are to make the most positive impact they can. Sadly, despite the commitment to improve partnership arrangements – our review highlights fourteen good practice case studies from all parts of Wales showing how different organisations are rising to the challenge of tackling community safety – there remains much to do. We make a number of recommendations aimed at Welsh Government, Police and Crime Commissioners, local authorities and others with a stake in community safety. These are focused on working together more effectively, aligning activity and budgets to ensure resources are used wisely to deliver the greatest impact and on the things which matter to citizens.
Maybe then the mud will become a little clearer for us all…
About the author
Nick Selwyn is a Local Government Manager at the Wales Audit Office, with responsibilities for our programme of all-Wales studies. He has worked for the WAO for eight years in a variety of roles and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Housing.