‘Uncertainty’ over victim support as North Yorkshire crime tsar announces new referral centre

Police Commissioner for North Yorkshire Julia Mulligan
Police Commissioner for North Yorkshire Julia Mulligan
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NORTH Yorkshire’s police commissioner is to pull out of a region-wide referral centre for crime victims and set up a local unit for her county after raising fears local victims were “falling through the cracks”.

Julia Mulligan says victims of crime in her county will now be initially dealt with by staff at a centre in York rather than the Victim Assessment and Referral Centre in Wakefield used by Yorkshire’s three other forces.

Responsibility for paying for and planning local victim referral services for victims passes from the Government to police and crime commissioners (PCCs) from April 1.

Victim Support, the charity that runs the schemes nationwide, says a final agreement has still not been reached with PCCs over funding for local victim services as a whole.

The uncertainty means it has begun consulting with its Yorkshire staff and it says when the talks are concluded more than 70 staff in the region could be at risk of redundancy.

West Yorkshire’s PCC has said the uncertainty is due to the services being planned on a region-wide basis “and the negotiations with Victim Support are ongoing in other Police and Crime Commissioner areas”.

But Matthew Grove, PCC for Humberside, says he met with Victim Support’s chief executive in Wakefield just days ago to reach an agreement over the level of grant funding and that the issue has now been “sorted out”.

In North Yorkshire, Mrs Mulligan’s office last year carried out what she describes as a “comprehensive victim need analysis”.

A new service based at Athena House in York called ‘Supporting Victims in North Yorkshire’ will go live on April 1 and will aim to offer victims of crime a single point of contact for accessing services and support.

Mrs Mulligan says this will mean “simpler, faster and easier access to support for more victims via the telephone or online through a new website”.

The unit will be staffed by Victim Support as part of a partnership with North Yorkshire Police and specialist providers of support services.

According to the PCC, Victim Support will provide trained volunteers in the community around the county as part of the newly configured service, in addition to those working in the unit itself.

Mrs Mulligan told The Yorkshire Post: “We felt we were not getting the service that we needed. We have decided to pull out of the regional victim support unit, and set up our own victim services unit.

“We felt we were not getting good value for money and there were victims falling through the cracks. It will be live from April 1, co-located with the witness care unit at Athena House in York.

“Our analysis shows that 45 per cent of victims end up being witnesses and there is a very disjointed service between the two. By co-locating them there will be a more seamless service.”

She added: “When we did the analysis of the service victims were getting, it was quite clear we needed to make improvements. We have been really clear what we are setting out to do. I am really excited about this in North Yorkshire, I think it can make a real difference.”

The responsibility for funding victim support services, which cost millions of pounds a year across Yorkshire, is passing from the Ministry of Justice to local PCCs.

The uncertainty about the level of funding Victim Support will receive, and the possibility of redundancies, means the charity is obliged to consult with the staff potentially affected and put them on notice.

Karen Froggatt, North Locality Director for Victim Support, said: “Our local managers are working closely with the Police and Crime Commissioners on securing future funding for local victim services in the region, and we hope to have news about that very soon.

“Our teams have a good relationship with the Police and Crime Commissioners who are very supportive of our work.

“In the meantime, because there is some uncertainty about the level of our funding for the next financial year, we began consulting with our staff across Yorkshire and Humber.

“The outcome of those talks, which are due to end this month, may result in some staff being put at risk of redundancy. We are fully committed to supporting all of our staff during this period of uncertainty.”

Humberside PCC Matthew Grove said he had now agreed to grant Victim Support £570,000 for the year, with £180,000 to help pay for the running of the referral centre.

He said the initial delay in reaching an agreement was so he could ensure more volunteers were in place and were doing more hours for the charity.

West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said: “Here in West Yorkshire I value the work of Victim Support and the dedication of its staff and volunteers and have committed not only to retaining the current service but enhancing the support the organisation provides to victims, including through the recently launched Help for Victims website.”

A South Yorkshire PCC spokeswoman said: “We are in the final stages of drafting a grant agreement to fund a regional unit (South Yorks, West Yorks & Humberside) for victims’ services for 2015/16.”