Sunday 17 June 2018

Time for Ipswich to stay strong

"We must all share our responsibility to stop the knife violence- parents, schools, police, councils. Young people need to know that carrying a knife makes them MORE likely to be a victim- we need zero tolerance of knives and maximum support for vulnerable young people"

This was a tweet from our Labour MP for Ipswich, Sandy Martin after the fatal stabbing of Tavis, a young lad from the Racecourse Estate in Ipswich.

Just over 2 weeks ago Tavis was murdered in South East Ipswich and since then the town has seen two further stabbings with the latest incident also in South East Ipswich when a young lad was stabbed in front of diners at a McDonald's.

We have known for a while that we had young people involved in the drug trade that was helping fuel a gang war between at least two groups of teenagers, we had seen the warning signs and we knew action was needed to be taken. Some may say we must have failed after the murder of Tavis and the two further stabbings but the plan we have put into practice is no short term fix, it will take more than a few months to solve the drug fuelled problems that our town is experiencing. It may take years.

The problems we suffer from are not just an Ipswich problem, towns all over the county are experiencing the same issues, villages to cities, all over the UK are seeing an increase in youth violence related to the selling of drugs.

That does not mean Tavis and his friends have not been let down by many of us, education standards in Suffolk are not good enough, aspiration seems a dirty word for many of our younger residents. Academies have worked in some places and failed in others however what is certain is the increase in the amount of academies has seen the County Council lose any close links they had with many in he education system.

But we can't just turn this into a blame game, that wail not help the people of Ipswich, as Sandy stated we all have a responsibility and it has been good to see the Police, the County Council and ourselves at the Borough work together to help in the short term make our residents feel safer but also to put into action plans that will see our communities build up their own resilience and enable them to run schemes that they want which will help them, their children and their neighbours.

Some will see this as an opportunity to score cheap political points or push forward their own agendas, every day I hear people calling for the scrapping of 'Stop and search' whilst others are calling for an increase in it, both should leave the operational decisions on the use of 'Stop and search' to the police, they know more than any of us that in the past it has not worked and that it can alienate a community and that if you do need to use it, must be backed up by very good intelligence.

I am the portfolio holder for community safety so I am very concerned with the situation , I have been working hard to push forward our action plan to combat gang violence however I do ask myself if I could have done more, was I taking it for granted that the problem would not escalate out of control? One local Tory did accuse me of being in control of a 'crumbling' portfolio, the comment was not unexpected, but I was disappointed for our Council staff who have been working hard for a long time to improve community safety and for the last two weeks have been putting in very long hours to help our communities. Most of them are Ipswich residents, fellow parents who are also worried about their own families and friends. I have total faith in them to continue their good work, which will help make our residents safer. they certainly are no part of a crumbling 'portfolio'.

I of course wonder how we have got into a position where young people feel they have no future, I remember joining the army and watching a lad from Priory winning  the Army boxing championship, in the seventies many young lads (and to a lesser extent girls) left Ipswich to join the forces, spending from 3 to 22 years away from the town but returning in most cases a better person and in most cases then setting a great example to their friends and siblings  of what you can do if you get the chance and if you put your mind to it. Unfortunately the forces recruiting is down, the process is too long and minimum educational requirement's means that many of our young people who would most benefit from time in the army will never get that opportunity.

The last two weeks have been hard for our town, but we must stay strong, for each other and for all Ipswich residents, there is an obvious desire for all groups to work together, to regain the trust of our constituents and make sure we ensure Ipswich is a safe place to live a place where aspiration should be something all our youngsters have rather than a word to describe others.