Police and Crime Commissioner, UK
Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (UK)
Thank you and good afternoon, everyone.
Firstly, I’d like to thank the Chancellor for inviting me to say a few words this afternoon, and of course, to Pope Francis for making this Summit possible.
I want to talk to you from a slightly different perspective. Police and Crime Commissioners are elected – I am directly elected. West Yorkshire is an area that covers about 2.2 million population. We have cities such as Leeds and Brantford within that area. And the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners came about in 2012, when the government decided to introduce this new form of accountability for policing in England and Wales.
When the concept note came out one of the key areas was around modern slavery and human trafficking. So I’m going to talk about the work that I’ve undertaken with other Police and Crime Commissioners, and with other colleagues I’ll make reference to in my speech.
Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales came into being in 2012, replacing an old committee-style police authority system. Incidentally I was chair of that committee for ten years so I had a difficult decision to make whether to put myself forward to stand. But thankfully I did and the voters had the confidence to elect me in the area of West Yorkshire.
There are 41 Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales covering areas such as West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester – you heard from my colleague Tony Lloyd, earlier today – West Midland: big urban areas covering millions of people to smaller areas, covering a few hundred thousand people.
Each police force is still led by a Chief Constable, who is responsible for the operational day-to-day delivery of policing.
Police and Crime Commissioners are elected to hold their Chief Constables on police forces to account and also have the legal duty to set the budget. In my case, my budget is more than half a billion pounds, so it isn’t insignificant.
Also important, we have a duty to set something called a Police and Crime Plan, which determines the police and crime objectives for that area, and importantly, the outcomes we are seeking to achieve, modern-day slavery certainly being one of those.
We also work in partnership with a range of agencies: health services, fire and rescue, local government, to name but a few, to try to make sure there is a unified approach to preventing crime and reducing harm; and to protect victims, particularly those vulnerable from harm.
Also, Police and Crime Commissioners are now responsible for the funding and commissioning of all victim services in our areas, ranging from domestic violence to funding of, what are called, independent sexual violence advocates doing important work.
And for example, I’ve just published my Police and Crime Plan that sets out four key outcomes, that I suspect many of you will recognize: tackling crimes and anti-social behavior; safeguarding vulnerable people; making sure that the criminal justice system in its totality works; and supporting victims and witnesses. I mention this because it is very important strategically, and for accountability purposes in how we hold our police services to account.
One of the priorities in my Police and Crime Plan is to raise awareness of, and to tackle human trafficking and modern-day slavery. As the national lead for Police and Crime Commissioners in this area, I am determined to try and see that all Police and Crime Commissioners work together, not only with their police forces but with our partners and communities to tackle what we know are abhorrent crimes, and support victims and bring offenders to justice, wherever possible.
The trafficking of people is a terrible offense. They are abusers of human rights, shamefully robbing people of their dignity, causing misery to the lives of the victims’ families, and the communities they affect.
The refugee crisis, sadly, has only heightened the risks and threats to the opportunists that take advantage of the most vulnerable. There is good evidence to suggest that criminal gangs are taking advantage of displaced peoples across the world who are fleeing conflict, persecution and natural disasters.
They are often deceived by traffickers promising them a better life and force men, women, and children into slavery, exploiting them for profit. And obviously, we’ve heard a number of examples of that yesterday and today.
Many of these victims, sadly, do arrive in the UK and the number of identified victims for trafficking continues to increase. In 2015 there were 3,266 potential victims that were identified and referred for support through something called the UK National Referral Mechanism. It’s a process to try and put intensive support in place for those victims. That in itself is a 40% increase on the previous year, but it’s believed this is only a very conservative estimate.
This year, the Prime Minister has pledged that Britain will play a leading role in the fight against modern slavery, and has demonstrated a commitment through the implementation of the Modern Slavery Act, the formation of a government task force and the provision of 33 million pounds to tackle human trafficking in source countries, where victims are trafficked to the UK.
I was very pleased to be able, in January of this year, to launch the first-ever national anti-trafficking and modern slavery network at the Home Office with the support of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland, who spoke yesterday. The association of Police and Crime Commissioners, colleagues such as Tony Lloyd, who spoke earlier from Greater Manchester, and importantly, the national police chiefs council and the police constables.
The network has been established to provide a strategic meeting framework for PCCs and other stakeholders to specifically focus on human trafficking and modern-day slavery issues, and is a vital platform to enable us to hold forces to account, and tackle more effectively the response to modern-day slavery. I am keen that all Police and Crime Commissioners play a role in ensuring that Chief Constables are aware of the national problem, and ensure victims are supported, and perpetrators are brought to justice.
In my own area, we have had two large-scale investigations where we have literally rescued more than a hundred people from various addresses. Many of them were, in one case, Slovakian nationals and in another case, Bulgarian nationals, where 45 men were literally being kept in a two-bedroom house under slave labor conditions, working in a bed factory, that we’ve successfully prosecuted and closed down.
We encourage all Police and Crime Commissioners to engage with the network and include human trafficking in their Police and Crime Plans, which is very important if we are going to allocate the right commitment and resources.
Through the network, what we want to do is develop and identify best practice, the trends and patterns, encourage a victim-focused approach, good practice in victim care, the development of intelligence and information-sharing protocols between agencies, and support the development of proactive strategies for the prevention of human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
One of the ways we’ve managed to achieve this so far is by inviting police forces to share with the network how they have improved their response to modern-day slavery. And recently Great Manchester, for example, have shown that they have utilized an integrated multi-agency approach, working with the Police and Crime Commissioners, the police and other partners, with an emphasis on victim care.
And as Tony Lloyd said earlier, not only I’ve dedicated teams being set up in Greater Manchester but in West Yorkshire and West Midlands, which cover millions of people in big urban areas.
Through the network the National Police Chiefs Council, the Chief Constables, and the lead for the modern slavery network, Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, of Devon and Cornwall Police, this summer presented to the network a proposal to bid for something they call the Police Transformation Fund, established by the government. The proposal seeks to transform the police response to human trafficking and modern slavery, in line with the recommendations made in a recent review of the Modern Slavery Act, which called for a more consistent and coordinated police approach to dismantle criminal networks.
I endorsed the bid and I was supported by other Police and Crime Commissioners when we were consulted, and we specifically asked to drive forward the need to include the provision for victim advocacy within this bid, in which increasingly key roles have been played by non-government organizations, who often provide that vital link to victims in extremely vulnerable situations. I’m pleased to say that the bid was successful in October and the Home Secretary in the UK announced 8.5 million pound in investments, granted over the next two years. That will provide more than 50 additional analysts, specialists and investigators and a joint Slavery and Trafficking Assessment Centre to assist the police, to assess the threat of modern-day slavery and improve the operational response.
As part of this ambitious bid, I was very keen that links of the national and regional and local networks were established, and this has been recognized by the Home Office. I am confident that the strengthening of partnerships, through what this fund will help, will reduce the number of victims and apprehend those who abuse and cause harm. I’m also pleased that the Police and Crime Commission network is being involved in driving forward the strengthened police response, and I will continue to support this national effort through the network and leading the way with colleagues in West Yorkshire and across England and Wales.
So finally, in conclusion, I hope that you will see Police and Crime Commissioners as new allies with significant assets to help our collective work against the scourge that is modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
Thanks for listening.