The Prime Minister has been urged to crack down on county lines drugs gangs in Kent. During Prime Minister's Questions this afternoon, I raised "the rise of county lines operations" – where London dealers target youngsters in regional towns to run drug operations.
I asked Theresa May whether she shared my concern that drug-related deaths in Kent have doubled over the last three years, also pointing out that there are now 48 county lines in operation in Kent. I asked whether the Prime Minister agreed that "it's important for the Home Office to put more priority on making sure we win the war on drugs?"
Mrs May said Charlie had "raised a very important issue." She said the Government recognised that county lines "has been a growing problem and the Home Office is taking action".
My question to the Prime Minister comes after the Home Office axed funding for a project which has dramatically reduced child gang activity in Kent. The St Giles Trust charity has been training people with previous experience in gangs to become specialist caseworkers, who are then assigned to troubled youngsters involved in county lines across Kent.
According to a new report, the number of children reported missing due to suspected gang activity dropped by 40% in Dover and 65% in Margate in the months after the project launched in September last year. Kent Police calculated more than a quarter of a million pounds had been saved in resources, compared to £80,000 spent on the caseworkers.
After the huge success of the scheme, I wrote to Home Office asking for funding to be extended. Yet Minister Victoria Atkins said the St Giles Trust should explore other options. I asked Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott to step in – and he agreed to provide cash to keep the work going until April 2019.
But I want the Home Office to recognise how vital this project is and commit to long-term funding. Last week I ministers for "not taking county lines seriously enough" and for "proposing reviews rather than action". I have also been supporting Families United, a group of Dover parents whose children have been caught up in county lines. They are fighting to raise awareness of the issue and have been working closely with the St Giles Trust.
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