THE councillor in charge of community safety in St Helens has questioned the long-term impact of Merseyside Police’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU).

Merseyside’s Police and Crime Commissioner Jane Kennedy received £3.37 million of government funding last August to set up a VRU, taking a public heath approach to tackling serious violence.

Serious violence covers a range of crimes, including knife and firearms offences.

The VRU brings local police together with health and education professionals to understand the causes of serious violence in Merseyside in order to come up with a co-ordinated strategy.

The funding was initially for one year but Home Secretary Priti Patel announced last month that an additional £35m will be provided to continue the work for another year.

Merseyside’s VRU, which is headed up by Superintendent Mark Wiggins and his deputy, Inspector Ian Noble, included a range of professionals from various professional backgrounds.

Insp Noble was invited to the People’s Board in St Helens Town Hall this week to update partners on the progress of the VRU to date.

Much of the work carried out by the VRU is around prevention and in the coming months it is preparing to launch a training programme around adverse childhood experiences.

The training will be rolled out across the force and several other services to ensure all front-line practitioners.

Ins Noble said: “These are the children, if you actually go then to the future and you look into the prisons, you’ll find that most of those have genuinely all had adverse childhood experiences.

“And that’s what’s led them into violence, what’s led them into that situation, why they’re in prison.”

Inps Noble said part of the work of the VRU is ensuring what they are doing is sustainable in the long-term so that it can carry on if the grant funding stops.

This is a particular cause for concern for Labour’s Jeanie Bell, St Helens Council cabinet member for community safety.

“The VRU money has been very welcome,” Cllr Bell said. “I’m glad to see that we’re going to get that next year.

“However, I have to say, it’s been quite difficult this year because this money has been given out and we’ve had to spend it very quickly.

“I think if we’re ever going to make a real impact on adverse childhood experiences and we’re ever going to really tackle crime, that needs to be with a strategic approach.

“And it’s very hard to take a strategic approach when you’ve got in-year funding followed by one-year funding.

“I know that’s something I will be highlighting as a politician within the area.

“I think for the police and for every agency working with in it, you need know that you’ve got a decent level of time in which to put these policies in place because it’s not going to be solved in a year.

“It’s not going to be solved in four months and if you don’t have that long-term vision, how can you really make a significant impact?”

St Helens Star: Cllr Jeanie Bell, cabinet member for community safetyCllr Jeanie Bell, cabinet member for community safety

Insp Noble said the force has been able to use the funds to complement projects that have been struggling financially and has also provided seed money to get new initiatives up and running.

Another focus for the VRU going forward will be around Pupil Referral Units, (PRU) which houses pupils who have been expelled from mainstream schools.

Local authority-run PRUs have become a prominent recruiting ground in recent years for ‘county lines’ gangs. The VRU is now looking to address this.

Insp Noble: “As we know, if children are expelled, for example having knives, violent offences, some people would say that’s a good thing.

“Other people would say actually what happens is that child then becomes isolated and those children quite often then go on to become exploited, go into drug gangs and they become the next violent offenders.”

Insp Noble said over the last 12 months there has been a 6.1 per cent decrease in serious violence across Merseyside.

However, knife crime has seen a 6 per cent increase.

October saw the highest number of knife crimes recorded, with Liverpool accounting for 59 per cent of all knife crimes.

There were 14 offences in St Helens in October, equating to 11 per cent of all knife crimes across Merseyside.

Last May, Merseyside Police received £4.2m in surge funding, primarily for enforcements actions around serious violence.

Ins Noble said this surge funding has contributed to the reductions in serious crime.

Since receiving the surge funds, the force has carried out 1,500 stop searches, which has resulted in 154 arrests, and seized 422 weapons.