Cambridgeshire County Council’s Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday the 14th of December 2011 recommended that Cambridgeshire County Council’s cabinet ought expand the resources devoted to addressing domestic abuse within the council’s Community Engagement Directorate.
The committee heard, for the first time, that Domestic Violence support is currently limited to those taking their cases through the criminal justice process and pursuing a prosecution. This is likely to remain the case given the level of additional funding anticipated.
Cllr Samantha Hoy, who is leading a member led review into Domestic Violence for the County Council, complained that that she had not been made aware of this; she explained that she wanted to be made fully aware of everything that was going on so she could include it in her review. Cllr Hoy said that while she understood her review needed to be concluded at some point, she wanted to wait for the current changes to be concluded so their impact could be assessed.
One of the statistics presented to the committee was that only one in four domestic violence related reports to the police resulted in a crime being recorded (This may be 1 in 5 the wording was unclear). The committee was told that in the overwhelming majority of cases where calls to the police for help in relation to domestic violence are made there will be no follow-up at all after the initial attendance by the police.
The committee was told that the council’s current five staff who work with victims of domestic violence had previously been grant funded. The source of this wasn’t mentioned but the committee was told it was no-longer available. Therefore an increase in the resources the council itsself puts towards helping victims of domestic violence would be required to maintain the current service levels.
Chairman of the scrutiny committee Steve Tierney asked the officer in-charge how many staff he thought were actually needed. The answer given was twenty-five, based on the demand for service and staffing in comparable areas.
One councillor cautioned against too rapid an increase in staff numbers as this might cause management problems.
Another councillor asked for details of how much management was involved in the service, and if there were huge swathes of administrators sitting above the five staff who actually do the work. The committee was told the team had one administrator who took reports from the police and allocated them to staff, and were assured there was a minimal management structure in place.
It was noted that the County Council also spend some money commissioning services from the voluntary sector. I presume this means that, through the involvement of volunteers, the council gets more person-time and impact for its money than it would if it used the money on its own staff. I hope this is the case and the “voluntary sector” in this context hasn’t just become another contractor to outsource to. Commissioning services from, and entering contracts with the “voluntary sector” rather than simply working with them, while common, is something which I find to hard to reconcile with what I think the term “voluntary sector” means.
The interim report argues that spending money on domestic violence makes sense, because of the huge sums of money which could potentially be saved if domestic violence is tackled early.
In fact the interim report underestimates the potential cost savings as it considers mainly the direct costs of domestic violence eg. the costs of the police call outs to domestic violence incidents. It doesn’t yet quantify the full potential of “investing to save” in this area. The police have reported that many serious crimes eg. murders, child abuse, and serious violent crimes have, involve domestic violence in the background/history of their case, so a relatively small amount of money spent on domestic violence may save both lives, and the costs of major police investigations. The final report of the member led review will hopefully include references to research in this area and perhaps verify it.
While the County Council is to pay for the domestic violence work, the savings will be made across the public sector. There are expected cost savings for the public sector in terms of the NHS, housing, and social security. While the public sector is the public sector and to an extent which bit makes the savings doesn’t matter we need to ensure that there is a joined up approach and that there are the right incentives and motivations for areas of the public sector to make investments which benefit others, and that budget allocations reflect what is being done.
Cllr Hoy’s final domestic violence report will hopefully provide the basis for an evidence based argument to an incoming police commissioner for spending an appropriate amount of the police and crime budget in this area to increase the provision available. The County Council might not be the recipients of the money though, the commissioner will have to chose where the best value for money can be obtained.
One missing bit of information appears to me to be on the subject of if focusing on those taking their case through the criminal justice system is the best way to target resources. Is it these domestic violence cases which are most likely to lead to the serious crimes and costly outcomes; or are these simply the cases where people most obviously need help? Maybe these are the cases where a lack of help is most obvious to the public?
There is also the question of under-reporting; and to what extent increasing reporting in particular types of cases may have the potential to reduce consequences and costs. Are the unreported cases those in which intervention would be justified or are they largely those which have little impact on wider society?