By Cllr Jason Brock
Last week brought the good news that the Council has received £429,000 for initiatives to improve the safety of public spaces in the city center and improve community engagement.
With additional matching funding directly from the Council, the money will be used to target issues such as anti-social behaviour, crimes related to theft and violence against women and girls.
I am absolutely sure that residents will welcome this new investment and that it will lead to visible improvements in our town centre, including improved lighting and new CCTV.
It will also be used to provide a new Community Safe Hub, which will function as both a drop-in center for help and advice as well as a new permanent home for the first aid and social care services operating currently from the cathedral on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Addressing violence against women and girls is a priority for the Council’s community safety work, and we were disappointed that the Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner did not make this a priority. also one of his priorities.
So, crucially, this funding will go beyond universal measures and provide targeted work to improve safety for women in Reading. This will include dedicated safe spaces, the creation of safer routes around the city centre, improved and expanded training for staff in nighttime venues and work to support female victims of crime.
Equally, we recognize that providing better opportunities for young people is an important part of improving community safety, which is why we will work with voluntary sector organizations including Starting Point, No5 and Reading Football Club Community Trust. This is to ensure that young people aged 18-25 have a say in the development of safe and inclusive community spaces and activities, in addition to expanding successful mentorship and outreach programs.
As welcome as this funding is, and it will make a difference in the inner city, we need to put this in the context of the challenges that policing and community safety work in general are facing more broadly. It will come as no surprise to anyone that frontline and neighborhood policing does not have the resources it has had in the past. Recent government commitments to increase police numbers do not reverse cuts made since 2010 and our Thin Blue Line, nationally and locally, is much thinner than it should be.
More recently, the Police and Crime Commissioner chose to cut funding for the Reading Community Safety Partnership by more than 50%, which has strained efforts to join the work underway in Reading to preventing and combating crime and anti-social behaviour.
In this context, the Partnership is currently consulting on its new strategy and I hope that residents will take the opportunity to contribute to it as well as the strategy on domestic violence and safe accommodation (both can be consulted in online via consult.reading.gov.uk).
The Council will always do what it can to promote community safety and fight crime, and we know that working in partnership is an integral part of that effort.
We are fortunate to have local police who also engage in this collaboration, alongside probation, fire and health services.
I sincerely hope the government recognizes the need to properly fund such vital work, particularly if we are to continue to take a preventative – rather than reactive and reactive – approach to tackling crime.
Cllr Jason Brock is the leader of Reading Borough Council and a member of Southcote Labor Borough