Without proper funding it feels a bit like Dad's Army with broomsticks, picks and shovels, to tackle an important issue that demands an arsenal of professional weaponry
– Cabinet member for community engagement and public health, Martin Phillips
A CAMPAIGN aimed at helping Buckinghamshire to fight modern slavery has won the support of Buckinghamshire County Council’s Transport Environment and Communities Select Committee.
Described as a hidden crime, modern slavery traps vulnerable victims in forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and child trafficking.
Not only does it rob people of human rights, and risk their health and wellbeing, it also generates big money for organised crime, Select Committee members were told recently.
But only a very small proportion of the likely number of victims is ever reported: eight in the Thames Valley Police area during the last quarter of 2014, compared with an estimated 100 victims in Buckinghamshire alone.
The emerging awareness campaign, in response to legislation aimed at supporting victims and catching the exploiters, majors on helping people spot the signs of modern slavery and know how and where to report it.
The Safer and Stronger Bucks Partnership Board – of which Bucks County Council is a member – has commissioned research from the Jill Dando Institute to help understand the extent of modern slavery locally, what is known about offenders, victims and locations, and how agencies can respond.
But the Select Committee was told that while the 2015 Government legislation gives councils a statutory duty to report potential victims of modern slavery to the Home Office and support them, there’s no financial support from Whitehall.
And pressure on Bucks County Council’s budget means either diverting money from other programmes, or going through a lengthy bidding process for partnership funding, which has no guarantee of success.
Community safety coordinator Martha Edwards told the Select Committee the hidden and unknown nature of the crimes was the biggest challenge facing agencies wanting to help people.
Cabinet member for community engagement and public health Martin Phillips said: “Clearly slavery didn’t die with the courageous efforts of 19th century campaigners like William Wilberforce and Buckinghamshire’s own John Newton. We have a 21st century fight on our hands to protect vulnerable victims of organised crime.
“The first move towards catching the crooks who exploit vulnerable people in such an evil controlling way, is to help people recognise the signs and make it easy to report. That’s just what we’re planning with our campaign.”
Mr Phillips added: ‘Without proper funding, it feels a bit like a Dad’s Army exercise, with broomsticks, picks and shovels, to tackle an important issue that demands an arsenal of professional weaponry.”
Select Committee chairman David Carroll said this was a matter of critical importance that won the committee’s utmost support, and urged a letter from the cabinet member to Police and Crime Commissioner Anthony Stansfeld.
He said: “We need this on the PCC’s agenda and make the partnership between Bucks County Council and Thames Valley Police really work hard for the protection of the victims of this appalling crime in our communities.”