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Friday, August 13, 2004

Joined up Government

Holding the Government to account for its manifesto promises is a major role of opposition. Thus we have been very keen in the Welsh Assembly to monitor the top ten pledges in Labour's Welsh manifesto from the 2003 Assembly elections. One of these promises was the establishment of a £100 million crime fund.

To the layperson this would appear to be a unified sum of money associated with a specific strategy designed to combat crime. Perhaps it would be dedicated to paying for more police officers, specific police operations or even activity that might prevent criminal behaviour. Nothing seems to be further from the truth.

Questioning has revealed that there does not appear to be a unified strategy nor is all this money held by one minister never mind one specific fund. There is even doubt if there is £100 million there, if all of it is being used to combat crime in the way implied by the manifesto (most of it pays for peripheral activity that has some limited impact on illegal activity) or if there has been any thought at all as to what the promise means. Certainly, most of the activity identified by the Government as forming the elements of this "Crime Fund" is worthy and needs to be done. The investment in treating drug and alcohol abuse for example is overdue and has the potential to make a major impact on the well-being of communities and in reducing drug-related crime. However, essentially that item is health spending and does not appear to fulfill the expectation created in the manifesto that this money is there to get tough with crime.

The latest answer I have had identified the budget items that make up this fund, however it failed to tell me how much money is allocated to each item, despite the fact that I asked. The answer said, "The following make up the individual elements of the Welsh Assembly Government's £100 million crime fund: Safer Communities Fund, Disaffection Grant, Out of Hours Learning, Community Focussed Schools, Drug and Alcohol Initiatives, Domestic Violence, Housing for Ex-offenders/young people/substance misusers."

I have now tabled seven written questions seeking to identify the budget for each of the seven elements listed. An indication of the confusion within the Welsh Assembly Government about this fund came almost immediately. An e-mail arrived from a Government Official within 24 hours of the questions being tabled. It said "Do you have any additional information on the Disaffection Grant so that we can identify it and answer this question?" Don't you just love joined-up Government?

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