Cllr David Parsons, the Conservative leader of Leicestershire County Council, says Fiona Pilkington suicide shows we must "take ownership" of problems in our community – not leave the responsibility to someone else. This applies to the police, councils but also to citizens.
The tragic circumstances surrounding the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter, Francecca, in Barwell in October 2007 is just one of those moments whereby one is forced to stop and think: are you really making a difference and is everything we are doing enough to protect vulnerable people?
For the last twelve years, central government has overhauled the system that used to be called “social services” and how organisations like the police and local councils work together to deliver their “social” obligations.
Most of the time, we like to think that we get it broadly right. In Leicestershire, we pioneered the Youth IMPACT project, which uses teams of specially trained youth workers to go out into the community and works with police and essentially, young people themselves, to seek solutions to issues of anti-social or improper behaviour, before they have chance to escalate. In the wake of the Pilkington case, people may be thinking this is the “soft” approach and we need to take a tougher line with problem individuals or communities.
Victimising young people has never been an approach I have been comfortable with. Unless Gordon Brown is committed to rewriting the statute book, his promises of grand schemes like “hitsquads” in local communities will simply be seen as a knee-jerk reaction to this dreadful case.
Similarly, allowing local councils powers to end 24 hour drinking or calling for problem families to be evicted from their properties more swiftly smacks of policy making on the hoof. It also shows a lack of respect for due process. It is all very well to show examples of strong leadership, but they mean nothing if they don’t empower local authorities to make real decisions in local matters, especially serious ones. If local authorities were confident that these “powers” would bring about proper results, then we would have utilised their potential far more effectively.
Terrible though the Pilkington case is we will continue with our pioneering community work, whereby we provide £500,000pa extra funding for 50 additional PCSOs to help the local police deal more effectively with local problems. Now more than ever before, we need to forge better and closer relationships with our local authorities.
We have to accept that intervention in social and domestic settings will become more widespread by local agencies. The police should not be afraid and should be empowered to intervene in “domestic” situations. They need to be freed from excessive bureaucracy preventing them from being where they should be: on the beat and solving and detecting crime. The new Chief Constable needs to prove that the force is capable of understanding the nuances, complexities and scope of “hate” crimes. These actions will go a long way in restoring confidence to the force. They need to be more responsive to the sensitivities of vulnerable people if they have learning difficulties or have special needs. This undoubtedly prevented Fiona Pilkington from admitting to this disability within her family. Pride is a powerful inhibitor. One small change in the police’s actions would have ensured this case would have been treated in a different manner and would not have meant they slipped through the net.
Our social or youth workers will need to be trained to deal more effectively in identifying problems before they escalate beyond help as well as utilise different more effective channels of communication with partner organisations. “Safeguarding” vulnerable people, be they children or adults, is one of those “front line” services that local authorities will have to find extra resources to protect. This is the sort of practical help the Conservatives are pledged to deliver.
We must also be prepared to take ownership of problems and not assume it is some other organisation’s responsibility. The police can only do so much. District councils can do so much and that applies equally to the County Council also. But there is also the responsibility of each and every one of us within the community. Bad behaviour is a symptom of poor education, upbringing and a lack of respect for others. We, as members of the combined, wider community, should be able to perform these responsibilities free of charge. But it seems we fail in the most important of social responsibilities.
The Pilkington case highlights what David Cameron has called “the broken society”, where in some areas, issues of anti-social behaviour have blighted individuals lives (in the case of Fiona Pilkington) and brought terror to communities, creating no-go areas for law enforcers being left powerless because the courts system and criminal justice systems do not talk to each other properly.
In response, the Labour government has brought in many “tools” to enable local authorities powers to deal more effectively with problem families. ASBOs, curfew orders, tagging, good behaviour bonds the list goes on and on. The government prefers “top-down” planning rather than allowing local authorities the powers to deal effectively with local problems. This is the hub of the problem: local authorities are simply not allowed to take the initiative and deal or experiment with local solutions to local problems. This needs to change.
The Pilkington case proves that this legislation is woefully inadequate and shows that sometimes, the local authorities charged with safeguarding, get it wrong and are unwilling, or perhaps, are too afraid of the consequences intervention may breach some other “right” these people may have.
My message to the government, and one that the Conservatives advocate, is to allow local authorities to get on with what they are good at, without having to deliver services with one hand tied behind their
The Pilkington case highlights the need for a new “localism” in British politics and this may bring with is, a better society.