In 2017, the LGA and commissioner’s office published comprehensive guidance for councils on the role they can play in helping to tackle modern slavery and support victims. This was followed by a series of regional events on modern slavery, which were well attended by both councillors and officers.
The board recently reappointed Nottinghamshire’s Cllr Alan Rhodes to the important role of LGA champion for tackling modern slavery, to ensure that the issue continues to receive the attention it deserves.
The UK’s largest modern slavery case concluded in July, following an investigation by West Midlands Police dating back to February 2015.
Eight gang members from two Polish crime families were jailed after more than 400 vulnerable people were forced to work for nothing after being lured to the West Midlands.
The gang targeted vulnerable people such as the homeless, ex-prisoners or alcoholics and told them they could earn good money in the UK, but instead placed them in poor accommodation and paid them as little as 50p an hour.
We are now publishing two new documents on modern slavery. The first is a series of case studies highlighting some of the good work that councils are doing on this issue, in terms of facilitating reception centres for victims who have been rescued; using regulatory powers in areas such as housing to disrupt slavery; and supporting adult and child victims.
The second gives guidance on the specific role that individual members can play on this agenda. It draws on the experience of areas that have been proactive in tackling modern slavery, and suggests ways in which councillors can increase and share knowledge of modern slavery – for example, through arranging and attending training, and understanding what anti-slavery charities are working locally.
Councillors can help raise awareness of the issue – there is still relatively little understanding of the scale of modern slavery taking place in the UK, although coverage of the recent West Midlands case (outlined, right) may help to change that. Councillors can share information with their colleagues, networks and local residents.
They can also link work to tackle slavery into their roles and networks – modern slavery cuts across a number of council services, including regulation and community safety, housing, social care and procurement. Councillors can help embed anti-slavery work through their individual portfolios and committee roles. They also have a key role in scrutinising their council’s activity and local work to tackle modern slavery.
We know from our work that councils have already taken a number of positive steps to try to stamp out slavery in their areas, and particularly from their supply chains, where local government is leading the way on transparency.
We also know that resources are a key challenge. We will continue to make the case to central government that with more cases being identified and an increasing number of victims being referred, more resources are needed both centrally and locally to address this.
In the meantime, I hope that colleagues will find these new documents a useful reference point when thinking about the personal role they can play in working with officers and their communities to try to address this terrible crime.