Building respect

The UK Experience by Malcolm Morley*

Respect is a major new Government initiative launched in January 2006 by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair who explained it in the following terms: “It is about putting the law abiding majority back in charge of their local communities.” The aim is to ‘eradicate the scourge of antisocial behaviour’ from society.

It includes a package of proposals aimed at detering bad behaviour while investing in good behaviour. This includes extra help for parents, more activities for young people and greater penalities for wrong doers. Full details of this initiative and the Respect Action Plan can be found at www.respect.gov.uk

Police and Councils will have tough new powers to deal with families who blight communities with unacceptable behaviour. The Respect Action Plan proposes a national network of projects providing help and support for families, but those who don’t improve or take responsibility for their children’s behaviour, could be subject to new powers including:

  • cutting housing benefit to households who are evicted for antisocial behaviour and refuse help
  • a new house closure order temporarily sealing up properties that are the constant focus of antisocial behaviour
  • schools able to apply for parenting orders where a child’s behaviour requires it, and Councils being able to designate housing or community safety officers to do the same.

The plan sets out a wide ranging program to tackle antisocial behaviour and to build a culture of respect.

Other measures include an additional £52 million for parenting classes and increased support to tackle poor parenting, ‘Face the People’ community meetings to allow residents to hold to account officials responsible for community safety issues and to raise issues of concern, a ‘Respect Standard’ for housing management to ensure that all social landlords tackle bad behaviour and promote good behaviour, and consideration of a new offence of obstructing the progress of ambulance workers, when they respond to emergencies. This would complement existing offences that deal with the obstruction of police and fire officers.

The plan is central to the Government’s drive to clampdown on antisocial behaviour, to tackle causes in the home, classroom and local community and address a wider culture of disrespect in society. ‘Respect’ is seen in the context of upholding and reinvigorating civic values.

Councils will have an expanded role in ensuring that communities are at the heart of the Respect agenda. They will also be more accountable for their service provision and community leadership.

It will be interesting to see how the balance between prevention and cure works in practice. As with many issues with which Councils deal, the cause and effective relationship is often complex and made more difficult to evaluate because of the time required to achieve outcomes.

In holding Councils and others to account for their success in pursuing the ‘Respect’ agenda both quantitative output data and qualitative outcome data have to be considered. Reducing the number of cases of antisocial behaviour has to be balanced by the reduction in the fear of antisocial behaviour.

Changing individual behaviour and community perceptions takes more time and is often more complex than enforcing the law.

*Malcolm Morley is Chief Executive of Harlow District Council and can be contacted via the Editor, email info@lgfocus.com.au The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of his employer.