Last weekend a headline in a national newspaper caught my eye: “Apprentices are critical for future of small businesses.” This really reinforced to me that we have some wonderful youngsters here in Suffolk and we must do whatever we can to support them. They are, after all, the key to our future.
Young people do not always get good press so I was very pleased to see apprentices being rewarded in the recent Bury Free Press Business Awards.
It is all too easy to focus on bad behaviour and as Police and Crime Commissioner, I do need to remind myself that youngsters can be victims of crime just like anyone else.
Whilst times are difficult for many of our fellow citizens, I am deeply concerned about the challenges the next few generations face when they complete their education – huge national debt, looking after an ageing population, student fees, the cost of housing and never mind getting married and starting a family!
My experience of running a Scout group for over 25 years has been particularly useful for showing me that even if you had a difficult start in life, you can thrive if you develop personal characteristics such as perseverance, self-confidence, respect and courage as well as caring for other people. This is why working with young people in Suffolk is a key theme in our Police and Crime Plan.
During the last year I have awarded grants for community safety and victims services of over £1 million. A large proportion of this taxpayers’ money has been used to support Suffolk youngsters. One of the first initiatives to be delivered is the roll-out of the Police Cadets across the whole of the county. There will soon be a unit in every district and borough across the county. I was privileged to open the first new unit in Sudbury in May and we look forward to the same happening in Haverhill and Mildenhall. It’s a fantastic organisation and around a third of recruits have a disadvantaged background. I have been so heartened to see the sheer pride that the cadets, families and friends have when they first wear their uniforms
I am a great believer in giving young people a step-up where we can – I really do think it pays dividends. Recently I had the pleasure of sponsoring eight candidates from across Suffolk to attend a week’s residential course at Grafham Water that was run by Rotary International. The course involves business tasks – similar to Lord Sugar’s The Apprentice – team building, indoor and outdoor activities and some of the old-fashioned themes such as manners, dress code and public speaking. I was privileged to address them all at the last-night dinner where they received their Rotary Youth Leadership Awards. I was delighted to see the change in the candidates, I can honestly say the change in the young people was transformational.
We need to recognise that occasionally people do go off the rails but at the same time giving individuals a second chance is important but not a third, fourth or fifth.
Keeping young people out of the criminal justice system is crucial, but if they do get arrested I have supported a triage scheme for under 21s who have been arrested and have an addiction. Instead of a custodial sentence they can now undertake a course of treatment to stop their habit. Getting, and keeping people off illegal drugs is absolutely key. Drugs are closely linked to increasing levels of crime and organised crime.
Better engagement with youngsters came up at our public meeting earlier this year in Brandon and elsewhere. We are always looking at how we can develop the use of social media, texting and networking to keep everyone informed about community and personal safety. Technology is a wonderful driver to help improve society (mobile phones, internet and sat navs) but sadly there are crimes associated with it such as fraud, text bullying, sexual exploitation and extremist propaganda material. We all have a crucial role for keeping each other safe and free from harm.
Finally we all need to support and encourage our Suffolk young people, set a good example to them and lead them back on track if we see them falter. Remember the young generation are the very citizens who will help Suffolk develop and remain such a great place in which to live, work, travel and invest for many years to come.