Crackdown on nuisance behaviour backed

YOUTH workers, councillors and prosecutors in the region yesterday welcomed moves by Prime Minister Tony Blair to crack down ever harder on the scourge of anti-social behaviour.

YOUTH workers, councillors and prosecutors in the region yesterday welcomed moves by Prime Minister Tony Blair to crack down ever harder on the scourge of anti-social behaviour.

Mr Blair pledged to "change the rules of the game" in dealing with yobs as he announced plans to extend the use of parenting contracts and orders.

In a speech at a community centre in Watford, Hertfordshire - his first since returning from holiday - he stressed he wanted to take efforts to increase respect in society "to a new level" and signalled that this would involve a culture shift in the criminal justice system.

Mr Blair said that parenting contracts and orders should be available to apply for if youngsters are at risk of being involved in yobbish behaviour, not just when they have been already.

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Parenting orders are legally enforceable and can include counselling, assistance with parenting, curfews for tearaways and a crackdown on school attendance - and breaches can be punished by fines of up to £1,000 and community sentences.

Meanwhile, parenting contracts are voluntary but formalise the support which parents will receive, as well as identifying their needs.

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Mr Blair added: "People need to understand if their kids are out of control and they're causing a nuisance to the local community, something is going to happen. They can't just get away with that."

Mr Blair said that, a few years ago, talk of parenting orders would have been considered "bizarre or dangerous" and that some would see them as the machinations of the Nanny State.

But people needed support, as well as pressure, "to face up to their responsibilities," he added.

Belinda Clabburn , Performance and Review Manager for the Suffolk Youth Offending Service (SYOS), backed the PM's stance and stressed that the parental role was key to curtailing offending.

She said: "Engaging with parents and carers is a fundamental part of the work that we do.

"As part of that, we look into whether these parents or carers could benefit from some additional support around the care of their children, with the purpose of preventing offending.

"We offer, in partnership with community education, parenting skills classes and in addition to that we offer one-to-one support.

"A lot of parents find that attending parenting classes with other parents in a similar position can be really beneficial.

"It's not about saying you're a bad parent. Kids don't come with an instructional manual and for all of us there are times when it's easier to cope than others."

Sherrie Green, cabinet member for community wellbeing at Suffolk Coastal District Council, also welcomed Mr Blair's comments.

She said: "I think it's a cultural thing that will taken another 20 years to change. Parents need to be stricter. It's not going to happen in six months.

"I do think it's getting worse. Believe it or not, we've had to bring in drinking bans. Twenty years ago you would not have thought it possible. People are urinating on walls, and youths are just laughing when the police turn up."

The Prime Minister also said police would be given powers to shut down pubs and clubs where fights were a problem, triggering a review of their licence.

Fixed penalty notices would be used more widely and people creating a nuisance, as well as drug dealers, could be evicted, he said.

Such measures would take place "at speed".

Richard Spring, MP for West Suffolk, said it was "about time" that parents were brought to account for the unruly behaviour of their children.

But he added: "We've had all sorts of comments from him (Mr Blair) over the years and it seems to me to be completely inconsistent, given what we know about anti-social behaviour and alcohol abuse, to be moving towards 24-hour drinking.

"It's a serious concern for the police in Suffolk, and many people have spoken to me about their worries. Our town centres, particularly at the weekends, are chaotic."

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