Professor John W. Raine
In January the Coalition Government announced its proposal to transfer funding of Victim Support, the national charity that provides support to victims of crime, to the soon-to-be-elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) for each force area of England and Wales. The idea of ‘local commissioning’, of course, fits well with the wider ‘localism’ agenda but has raised fears of inconsistency in service provision (especially if PCCs choose to spend their money on more electorally attractive issues), of lower professional standards (through fragmentation of training) and increased administrative costs (with forty two local management structures rather than one national one). Unsurprisingly, Victim Support is strongly opposed to the proposals.
However, there is a strong case to be made for a mix of both national and local commissioning. National commissioning by the Ministry of Justice (of a universal support service for victims and witnesses) is vital to the maintenance of existing high standards. In this respect, Victim Support is best placed to provide the service – having all the experience and the systems infrastructure in place for receiving referrals from the police of all reported crimes and making contact to offer support. But there is much to be gained by also empowering local Police and Crime Commissioners to ‘top up’ this national base-line service by procuring services at the local level tailored to area-specific needs, for example, in crime hot-spots, and in localities beset by certain offences, such hate crime.
Most important, it is to be born in mind that a significant proportion of crime goes unreported to the police and therefore there are many victims of crime who se contact details are not known to Victim Support yet who would benefit from receiving support. Domestic violence is particularly relevant here. A recent ‘MumsNet’ poll of 1,600 users revealed that 83 per cent of women who had been victims of rape or serious sexual assault had not reported their victimisation to the police.
For this reason, ‘out-reach’ work in local communities needs to form a vital element of any comprehensive strategy for supporting victims, alongside national police referral systems to Victim Support. Local commissioning by PCCs could help identify and meet particular local needs for support among victims who do not report to the police for whatever reason.
Recently, INLOGOV undertook evaluative research for Victim Support on a series of such ‘out-reach’ projects, some involving the establishment of community ‘drop-in centres’ (where no prior reporting or appointments are needed), and others deploying specialist workers in domestic violence and hate crime and operating in particularly disadvantaged neighbourhoods. A key lesson from the research is that local commissioning of such community-based victim support services can usefully complement the national framework of provision from Victim Support in ‘getting it right for victims of crime’.
John Raine is Professor of Management in Criminal Justice at INLOGOV, University of Birmingham. He has been involved in criminal justice research, consultancy and teaching at Birmingham for some twenty-five years and has a strong track record of commissions for the Home Office, Lord Chancellor’s Department/Department for Constitutional Affairs/Ministry of Justice on aspects of policy and practice within the criminal (and civil) justice sectors).
 The findings from this research are summarised in Raine JW, Merriam M, Beech A, and A Sanders (2012) ‘Reaching Out: Improving Access for Victims of Crime’, London: Victim Support.