‘County lines’ drug trafficking explodes

31 Jan 19

Councils have expressed alarm about the growing exploitation of children by criminal gangs.

Funding cuts and increased demand for child protection are hampering efforts to tackle drug trafficking in rural areas, the Local Government Association is warning.

The county lines problem – in which children are used to sell drugs, often in countryside areas – is worse than initially thought, the National Crime Agency has revealed.

The NCA’s annual report published today indicates that the estimated number of trafficking networks exploded from 720 in November 2018 to about 2,000 this month.

The LGA noted that effective partnerships between councils, the police, health services, charities and community organisations were “essential” to fighting the drugs trade.

Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board, said: “Councils are working hard to identify and protect children and young people at risk of abuse through county lines activity, but this is increasingly difficult in a climate of ongoing funding cuts and soaring demand for urgent child protection work.

“Children’s services are now starting more than 500 child protection investigations every day, but face a £3.1bn funding gap by 2024–25. This is forcing councils to divert funding away form preventative work into services to protect children who are at immediate risk of harm.”

Blackburn called on the government to reverse cuts to local youth services, youth offending teams, and councils’ public health budgets.

Nikki Holland, NCA director of investigations and its lead on county lines, said: “Tackling county lines is a national law enforcement priority.

“This is not something law enforcement can tackle alone – the need to work together to disrupt this activity and safeguard vulnerable victims must be the priority for everyone.”

Victoria Atkins, minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability, said: “We are supporting the police and others by funding a new National County Lines Coordination Centre, which launched in September.

“I’m pleased that this multi-agency approach is already seeing results and is helping police forces work together to tackle a crime that transcends regional boundaries.”

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