Members of Leeds City Council’s children’s scrutiny board met on Wednesday to discuss a 29-page draft report into whether Leeds was a child-friendly city, and what can be done to make it a better place for people to grow up.
However, some councillors disagreed on the wording of a section related to keeping children and young people safe, with some suggesting that the fear of knife crime is worse than the problem itself.
A section of the draft report entitled “To be safe from harm” read: “Knife crime can have devastating consequences – not only for wider communities – but also also those individuals directly caught up in it including families of people injured or killed through knife crime or sent to prison because of it.
“In view of the prevalence of knife crime both nationally and locally, this has become a more high profile issue, particularly surrounding the numbers of perpetrators and victims who are young people.”
But the council’s executive member for Children and Families Coun Fiona Venner took issue with the wording, suggesting that knife crime was not as prevalent as in other districts.
She added that it was her understanding that, while knife crime exists in Leeds, it was not prevalent in the city and that, while West Yorkshire has become an area where there has been an increase, this was mainly in Kirklees.
She said: “I think this [report] implies there is a prevalence of knife crime in Leeds. There is a prevalence of fear of knife crime about young people, and this came out in the survey.
“The fear of crime is often disproportionate where the crime is.
“This implies there is a prevalence of knife crime in Leeds and there isn’t. There is a prevalence of fear of knife crime among young people.”
But not everyone agreed with Coun Venner’s comments.
Killingbeck and Seacroft councillor and committee member Paul Drinkwater (Lab) responded: “It would be naive for us to think there is not a prevalence of knife crime in this locality. I have seen someone carrying an eight-inch knife within 50 metres of my house, tucked down their tracksuit bottoms.
“I know children in our area fear knife crime, I know that there are children carrying knives, and we have that evidence. It is perhaps not being reported in our communities, and perhaps at this stage things haven’t escalated to a point where the knives are being used, but they are certainly out there – I have seen them.
“Whether it is useful or not, I think ‘prevalence’ is quite an accurate word.”
Speaking about his own experiences working with young people in Leeds, Coun Ryan Stephenson (Con) said: “The fear element if what came out more than anything – the fear of it because they are seeing it more online.”
He suggested altering the wording to: “In view of the prevalence of knife crime nationally and the fear of knife crime locally…”
Coun Venner said: “I want to be very clear, I wasn’t saying there’s not any knife crime in Leeds, I am just questioning the use of the word ‘prevalence’.”
She then referred to a meeting with a member of staff from the youth court, adding: “They talked about people carrying knives, which I appreciate is a crime, and young people carry knives because it makes them feel safer. A big part of the work of the youth justice team is making them understand that it is not making them safer, it is making them much more at risk.
“The fear of knife crime is leading to consequences such as young people carrying knives, so I think the fear of knife crime is what is really prevalent.
“There is knife crime nationally, and there is some knife crime in Leeds, and there is a prevalence of fear.”
Committee chair Coun Alan Lamb (Con) agreed to Coun Stephenson’s amendments.
The report follows more than a years’ work looking at issues young people face in Leeds. The full and amended report is expected to be published within the coming weeks.