THE Government will spend £20 million on tackling “county lines” drug networks, a move that has been conditionally welcomed by the Children’s Society.
On Tuesday, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, told the Conservative Party conference that the investment would stop gangs’ “terrorising our towns and villages and exploiting our children”.
There will be an expansion of the National County Lines Coordination Centre, and a dedicated unit within the British Transport Police to detect children being exploited.
The chief executive of the Children’s Society, Mark Russell, said on Tuesday: “The pledge of funding to tackle this worrying issue is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed to tackle county lines.”
In a statement, Mr Russell said: “While it’s vital that the police focus their efforts on disrupting this exploitation, apprehending the real ring-leaders and protecting communities, it’s also crucial that children get the help they need to stay safe.
“Whilst we welcome the commitment to additional funding for youth services the Chancellor made yesterday, this still falls far short of what is needed to tackle the £3-billion funding gap facing council children’s-services departments by 2025 and enable them to offer better early help to prevent children falling prey to these criminals.
“All victims of this horrific exploitation should get access to an independent advocate and mental-health support to ensure they are treated as victims and are helped to recover.”
Ms Patel told conference delegates: “We are coming after you. . . We stand for the forces of right, and against the forces of evil.”
A spokesman for the Children’s Society said on Wednesday that the model of the way in which children were being exploited by gangs was “evolving”, and that the Government needed to be aware of this: “We are seeing children being exploited within localities — these things are happening within boroughs, children being used to move drugs and weapons.”
Mr Russell said: “It’s important that this announcement leads to tangible change and a better response for children everywhere from all organisations, not just the police, and that’s why we want to see a national cross-government strategy to tackle this issue, and end the current postcode lottery when it comes to helping vulnerable children.”