Domestic abuse is a devastating crime and an issue to which I have dedicated my whole professional life.
Local government plays a pivotal role in the response to domestic abuse, and I don’t need to tell readers of this magazine that its effects infiltrate every part of life and our public services.
You may have known me previously as the Chief Executive Officer of Standing Together, which runs the Domestic Violence Coordinators’ Network and provides the only accredited training for those with strategic responsibility for domestic abuse. I have seen the results when councillors and local authority staff prioritise the support for adults and children subjected to abuse.
Unfortunately, we know that the response is patchy. Competing priorities, complex multi-agency responsibilities and tight resources often get in the way of providing the best services and using opportunities to identify abuse and intervene early.
That’s why the Government established the role of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. With the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, I will be furnished with formal legal powers. Specific public bodies, including local authorities, will have a duty to cooperate with me, and to respond to the recommendations I make to them.
This offers a huge opportunity for me and my office to support local authorities by identifying and sharing best practice, giving advice and – where necessary – highlighting and challenging areas where the response falls short of what is expected.
I will be using the ‘National Statement of Expectations’ as a starting point but will develop a specific framework for monitoring and overseeing service provision nationally, and will work closely with the LGA and local authorities in creating this.
I will also support councils by holding national government to account and have already given evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee to this end. Where national policies get in the way of commissioning effective services, I will be the first to champion the needs of local authorities and be clear with government as to what must change. It too will be bound by the legislation that means it must respond to my recommendations.
This article comes at an extraordinary time for councils and our country. I know that local authorities, service providers and the Government are working around the clock to support victims and survivors of domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I have been blown away by the dedication of the domestic abuse sector in its efforts to keep services going and increase provision to meet need. I chair a weekly virtual meeting with the domestic abuse sector, government and the LGA. I have heard of the devastating effects that lockdown has had on victims and survivors, as well as the herculean efforts by services to keep going and ramp up support where needed.
I call on all local authorities to give as much support to their local providers as they can – be that offering flexibility on contracts and commissioning processes or offering short-term funding for increased shifts or remote working. It’s crucial that service providers can focus on what really matters, which is keeping survivors and children safe during this particularly difficult and dangerous time.
As restrictions begin to lift, I will visit as many local authorities as I can. Together, we can improve the response to domestic abuse, which still affects more than two million people every year.