£880,000 initiative to tackle the causes of violence and exploitation in Bedfordshire

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Police, councils and the health service have appointed a new tsar to fight against the causes of violence and exploitation across the county.

Kimberley Lamb is heading the £880,000 Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU), which will work with services from all three sectors.

The VERU will create a network which can stop young people getting involved in serious violence, mirroring the public health approach which has already been established in Scotland.

Mrs Lamb said: “Things like gun and knife crime are often driven by factors like organised crime and gang membership, including the criminal exploitation of children and other vulnerable people by those involved in county lines and wider drug dealing.

“I firmly believe that much of this associated violence can be prevented by creating the right support and interventions for those young people most at risk.

“Different agencies working together can play a huge part in that, and we want to build on the successful work that has gone into tackling things like child sexual exploitation in Bedfordshire.

“However, the community is absolutely integral to what I want to achieve with the VERU. I will invest in and empower our communities to play their part in ending this blight across our county, and hopefully create that ‘village’ mentality where everyone feels they have a role to play in protecting our young people.”

Bedfordshire is one of 18 police force areas across the country to receive funding from the Home Office for violence reduction units, with the county’s £880,000 having to be spent by the end of March.

Around a quarter of this funding has been earmarked for community projects which can divert young people away from gangs and serious violence.

The new unit will also set up a youth support worker service to work with those at risk of gang association.

Mrs Lamb has joined the VERU from her previous role leading Bedfordshire Police’s work around victim services and early intervention.

The VERU’s work will be overseen by a strategic board made up of all the different agencies signed up to it, including councils, schools, public health and the police.

Cllr Colleen Atkins, portfolio holder for community safety at Bedford Borough Council, said: “The issue of knife crime and serious violence is being taken very seriously in Bedford and across Bedfordshire.

“We look forward to Kimberley’s appointment and the work of the new Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit having a big impact as we work together to tackle this worrying situation and the detrimental effect it is having on our communities.”