WEDNESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2002
Mr Edward Leigh, in the Chair
SIR JOHN BOURN KCB, Comptroller and Auditor General, further examined.
MR ROB MOLAN, Second Treasury Officer of Accounts, HM Treasury, further examined.
REPORT BY THE COMPTROLLER AND AUDITOR GENERAL:
Helping victims and witnesses: the work of Victim Support (HC1212)
Examination of Witnesses
MR JOHN GIEVE CB, Permanent Secretary, and MRS JANE FURNISS, Director, Criminal Justice Performance, Home Office, and DAME HELEN REEVES DBE, Chief Executive, Victim Support, examined.
(Mr Gieve) Jane Furniss is head of the Justice and Victims Unit in the Home Office and therefore deals with Victim Support from our side and Dame Helen Reeves is chief executive of Victim Support.
(Mr Gieve) I think you are right to say that we set out down this road supporting the work of Victim Support. They established the service without our help, came to us and said we could do more and we could do more of value, and we agreed with them and we have supported them and that is how we got into this. It is a developing relationship, obviously, as our funding has become more and more significant to their activity. In terms of our future vision and strategy, we see this as a key part of our strategy for improving public confidence in the Criminal Justice System. We have a specific target for doing that. Partly that is making it work better, of course, but a good deal of it is making sure that the customers - and in this case victims and witnesses are the key customers - are satisfied with the treatment they get. So the longer term vision is to produce a Criminal Justice System which end to end produces the support, continuous information, protection, and so on, and engagement that witnesses and victims want. As you know, we are due to produce a strategy covering the whole of this area later in the financial year but that is so that it will be partly independent support for victims, such as Victim Support provides, but it will also be a set of main services - police, prosecutors, courts, and so on - who were as victim focussed or much more victim focussed than they have been in the past.
(Mr Gieve) That is true.
(Mr Gieve) It is true. We have not published a strategy before and we have not taken that end to end view of the process before publicly. However, we have published a very clear statement of what we want for victims in the Victim's Charter - the last Government and this Government have published that - and I think we have had a very clear direction over the last few years, which has been to expand the services for victims and witnesses across the country.
(Mr Gieve) The first point I would like to make in relation to that is that this has been a collaboration. This has not been a question of the Government putting out to contract a service that we have decided should be provided, this is Victim Support who have supplied the service. We have never funded them 100 per cent. So it has not simply been, if you like, a process of the Government defining a service and then asking who can most effectively supply it; it has been a collaborative venture. But as I say, this is a developing relationship. We now have a nationwide service for victims and witnesses and we have said that, for example, if we had a new service for road traffic victims we would put that out to tender.
(Mr Gieve) That is true.
(Mr Gieve) Yes. We have funded other organisations and we could do more. We get applications and through our Crime Reduction Programme, particularly in the domestic violence field, we have funded a number of organisations which have offered services to victims as well as other things.
(Mr Gieve) Yes. We are not closed to that.
(Dame Helen Reeves) If I could comment on the reduction, to begin with. A lot of the reduction there was because of better management and better accounting. We have improved the systems that all of our members have to use for appraisal of volunteers and for the renewal of their agreements. I think in the past there were quite a few people who did just a small amount of work who were allowed to carry on without additional training. That is not possible any more and we would naturally see a reduction because of that. But we do take it very seriously. Before entering into the new Magistrates' Court Witness Service we did our first full national recruitment campaign, where we were trying out the various methods of recruitment which we had not used before - the press and local publicity as well as the mailshot. We now have quite a lot of very useful information about the best way to recruit volunteers for Victim Support and also we know which geographical areas have the most need. So we are hoping to put together materials that our members can use at local level which are more targeted and therefore more efficient.
(Mr Gieve) We are helping to fund her recruitment campaign, or we did for the recruitment campaign she held.
(Mr Gieve) It cost half a million. But more generally right across the voluntary sector we are working and helping to support organisations like the Experience Corps in order to engage more volunteers. This is a problem for all voluntary organisations so we have got a sector-wide strategy for support and we put money into it, and so on.
(Mr Gieve) There are two points there. One is getting people to come forward and report more crimes. The other is what are we doing on the research about the effectiveness of the services. On the second, yes, we do a huge amount of research actually. A lot of research has been done about what victims and witnesses want, what they say they find satisfactory, and so on. But what the NAA have suggested is that we should have a more in-depth research about what produces the best longer term return in terms of trauma and returns to work, and so on. We will certainly consider that and are considering it. It is quite a formidable task to design a research project which follows victims and isolates the impact of any particular service upon them over a period of time. On the other question about not reporting crimes, this is of course a huge problem in particular areas, domestic violence, and so on, and we have got campaigns to get people to report and to challenge crimes more. The bulk of the unreported crimes - we have done some surveys as to why people do not report and the two biggest reasons which together account for 90 per cent of unreported crimes are either that they are too trivial or that people want to sort them out themselves. Certainly the second I am not sure quite what they had in mind, but the 70 per cent which are too trivial I think inevitably all we can do there is to help produce a Criminal Justice System which is effective and then leave it to people as to whether or not it is worth reporting. If they are not reporting it because they do not think anything will be done clearly that is not satisfactory.
(Dame Helen Reeves) It is not our objective to assist victims or witnesses to report the crime or even to come forward as witnesses. Our objective is solely to provide support for those individuals.
(Dame Helen Reeves) No, but what we do is support people, give them information and allow them plenty of time to talk over what can sometimes be a very difficult decision and we know that because of our work and our availability a lot of people do come forward who would not otherwise have done so. We are also currently reviewing the work that we are doing with the Street Crime Initiative where we are getting additional support to witnesses who have to come forward and we are looking very carefully with the Home Office as to whether or not our intervention is leading to a larger number actually arriving at court to give their evidence.
(Mr Gieve) I think the report points to holding Victim Support to account for how much they do and the spread of their services and how they use the money. There is no doubt that we are still developing and improving the flow of information. We now get a lot of information following the computerisation of Victim Support, the links they have brought in, but that has taken some while to get. In terms of setting priorities, from the Home Office point of view I would say we have a very high priority in trying to get witnesses to court and we also have a priority in getting people to report to the police. But we are dealing in Victim Support with an independent organisation which has its own objectives and, as you have just heard from Dame Helen -
(Mr Gieve) Absolutely, which receives £28 million. Nonetheless, we are supporting it because we think they are part of the answer but we are not asking them to provide the whole answer. For example, on reporting to the police, this part of the service to victims is one which does not put pressure upon them to report things to the police.
Chairman: Thank you very much. Mr Jones.
(Dame Helen Reeves) I am afraid we do not know the answer to that question. It is true that the police have to ask consent of certain very vulnerable categories and we are not aware of whether or not the question is asked or how the question is asked and therefore if people declined it or in some cases I think that the intervention of a Family Liaison Officer has meant that some people feel they do not need two types of support. It does need some careful consideration. We are very concerned in some areas where the level of referrals are much lower than in others, particularly with the consent referrals.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes. We are very concerned that the level of referrals in some areas is much lower than in others and this includes the categories where we need consent. But without being present when the police are asking the question we are left with the position where the police have to offer our services, which is something that we find extremely difficult, and they may not be offering them as accurately as we would wish.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Oh, yes. Yes, it is. The agreement that we have throughout the country is that victims of property crime should be referred to us unless they specifically ask not to be and leaflets have been prepared to explain to people what the service is and to say that they will be referred, and every police officer is meant to make a statement saying that they will be referred unless they specifically ask not to be. So it is the reverse of the consent referral. In cases of burglary of this sort it has nearly always been because of problems with the procedures in a particular area or with the interpretation of the Data Protection Act in some areas.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes, we do refer people when we feel that they need services which are beyond our ability and if there are services to refer them to. Again there is the resource problem of whether or not we have places to refer people to within the Health Service. That is a problem in a lot of areas. But in most cases, unless it is an extremely serious crime, an early intervention will actually prevent post-traumatic stress syndrome developing and I think it would be quite a small number who would need referral on. But we have done some research in this area. We commissioned research from a professional psychiatrist, who confirmed that in a number of cases, particularly cases of homicide, relatives would benefit from psychiatric intervention. But I am afraid we do not always have the ability to make a referral accurately to the Health Service.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes. I think in terms of workload on volunteers our coordinators are, I would hope, very careful not to overload an individual volunteer. If the service cannot cope with additional work it cannot do additional work, so I am afraid that the people who suffer are the victims if we cannot allocate a volunteer to them. The greatest pressure, I think, on volunteers is the amount of stress they are absorbing from the people they meet because a higher proportion of the work they are doing is now with violent and sexual crime simply because we do not have the resources to deal with all of the property crimes we would like to and if it is a property crime it is likely to be people who have referred themselves because of their particular reaction to the crime. All of our coordinators are trained through national training and one of the things that we emphasise is the importance of support and sharing so that people do not have to carry that burden alone.
(Dame Helen Reeves) No.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes. Yes, that is right.
Mr Jones: Chairman, I think that is all I wanted to ask.
Chairman: Thank you, Mr Jones. Mr Steinberg.
(Mr Gieve) I will ask Helen to comment on this, but this is a service which has grown on an independent basis and then we have supported it and our objective has been to get a national coverage and in the last two years - and this has been something we have worked with Victim Support on - to get the coverage to match the need. But inevitably in a voluntary service as it grew the places where there were more volunteers and the places where they could raise more funds locally grew quicker than the rest.
(Mr Gieve) In the last couple of years through the allocation procedure which Victim Support run and we observe we have been trying to switch funds so that you match the actual need in terms of crime and cases.
(Mr Gieve) Yes.
(Mr Gieve) It has gone a lot further and we now do have a national coverage, although there are still areas where it is not as good as others and we want to fill those gaps. We think there are strengths in employing volunteers on this. Partly, obviously, there is a value for money point but the main contribution from Victim Support comes in terms of voluntary free time, not just in terms of resources. But also our experience has been that having volunteers from the locality is actually a good element to offer in the service.
(Mr Gieve) Well, we do not need to fund the whole of the service.
(Mr Gieve) No.
(Mr Gieve) No. Helen will correct me if I am wrong but I think that on average about a quarter of the funds for Victim Support are raised from other sources, some from the local authority, some from charitable organisations.
(Mr Gieve) As the report shows, we have expanded the funding very rapidly over the last few years so we have put some of our money where our mouth is. For next year we are still looking at how much we can afford within our settlement. We have told Victim Support -
(Mr Gieve) Well, I am saying we have not yet decided how much we can afford to expand the service.
(Mr Gieve) You are saying, why do we not fund the whole lot.
(Mr Gieve) Why do we not find another £X million. Well, firstly Victim Support would have a view about that because they prize their independence, and secondly all that money has an opportunity cost in other services which we provide.
(Mr Gieve) Yes.
(Mr Gieve) Yes.
(Mr Gieve) No, I do not think it does substantiate your view.
(Mr Gieve) It means that you have to allocate the Government subsidy more to some areas than others. That is what it means and that is what is happening. Is that not right?
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes. Sorry, that was a factual question about whether we allocate money more where there is less fund raising.
(Dame Helen Reeves) No, we do not. We do not take account of local fund raising. We allocate Government money equally to all areas on the grounds that if we gave more money in areas where local government did not pay it would encourage other areas not to pay -
(Dame Helen Reeves) --- and it is a serious problem.
(Dame Helen Reeves) May I answer part of your question?
(Dame Helen Reeves) I would agree entirely with John Gieve about the importance of Victim Support being in the voluntary sector for all the reasons that are in the current Compact with the Government, that we have been able to go into the courts and to point out things which possibly should have been changed some generations ago. We have been able to take the cutting edge in a number of developments and in fact to develop many of the policies which are now being implemented. I think that level of flexibility is very important in the early stages. I also think the use of volunteers is fundamental to the value of Victim Support. I think that the equality of having somebody from the community offering their time free of charge is absolutely vital to a lot of the work that we do. People do not all want professionals. But I do agree with you absolutely that core services do need equal funding and that volunteers have to be supported by a professional, well paid staff and that in some areas they can top up salaries and employ additional staff and in some areas they cannot. That is and always has been a fundamental problem for us.
(Mr Gieve) Yes.
(Mr Gieve) Well, yes. The major theme of the Criminal Justice White Paper is to improve the service for victims and witnesses and we are determined to do that. In terms of funding, our funding has increased (this is p.15) over the period from £2 million to £28 million actually this year. That has been a big increase. I think what you are saying is that it should be substantially more than that. I would like it to be substantially more than that but we have got to squeeze it into a limited budget.
(Mr Gieve) Yes, but you are asking me to rob Peter even more to pay more to Paul.
(Mr Gieve) Yes, but the Criminal Justice System Reserve is a system we have which funds initiatives right across the Criminal Justice System, so not just in the Home Office but in the Lord Chancellor's Department, the courts, and so on, and we bid to that to get some extra money for Victim Support.
(Mr Gieve) I am afraid I do not know how this appears on our vote but we will continue to fund victims and witnesses but I do not think we will have a separate vote for it, no; it will be part of our overall budget.
Mr Steinberg: That just sums up what I have been saying, I think.
Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr Steinberg. Mr Davies.
(Mr Gieve) Well, £28 million is £28 million. It is more than we were spending; it is less than we would like to spend.
(Mr Gieve) Well, this is, so far as we know, the best victim service - absolutely, partly funded from outside the Home Office - in the world. Could it be a lot better? Yes, it could. Would we like it to be a lot better? Yes, we would. Is it derisory? No, it is not.
(Mr Gieve) First of all, it is true that only 60 per cent of witnesses said they would be happy to give evidence again. In our latest survey we asked another question, which is "Would you be willing to give evidence again?" where the figure was 80 per cent and actually the number saying they were happy had gone up a little. I do not know how significant that is. This is what I started out on. This is not just a question of Victim Support, this is also a question about the whole organisation of our courts and Criminal Justice agencies and we have a major programme of trying to make the system work better so that witnesses including, for example, police witnesses are not kept waiting, that they are told when they are needed and when they arrive they then go up -
(Mr Gieve) I think that the system does not give enough attention yet to the needs of witnesses and victims, certainly.
(Mr Gieve) I think it is desirable and in many of the Crown Courts we can do that but this would require major investment over a long period to change the courtrooms, especially all the Magistrates' Courts. Are we doing something about it? Yes, we are. This has been something we have spent some money on, for example, in the Street Crime Initiative. I am not pretending we have cracked the problem.
(Mr Gieve) Yes.
(Mr Gieve) Well, not a very good signal.
(Mr Gieve) I think you have had a session with Hayden Phillips -
(Mr Gieve) Yes. Well, the Lord Chancellor's Department rather than the Home Office leads on fine collection but they have a programme to improve it and that is very, very important to us, not least because we desperately need a more effective set of community penalties to prevent the ever rising numbers in prison. As far as Victim Support are concerned, they are providing support for victims whether or not their cases get to court and of course most people's cases do not get to court. So their focus is not wholly on how we get a witness to court, although it is very important to the Home Office.
(Mr Gieve) Is that for me or Helen?
(Mr Gieve) I think having a universal system supported by volunteers as one element of the response to victims is a good idea. I think, as Helen was saying earlier, there will be some victims who require professional support which is beyond what volunteers can give and I would agree with you that that is not always available. I would like it always to be available but I do not think -
(Mr Gieve) We talked to the Department of Health, who provide professional counselling but you know that even within a very large budget they find it difficult to provide a universal availability of this sort of counselling across the country. I would like to say there is the sort of post code lottery element of this, which is, is it acceptable to have any local variation in the quality of service? We are trying to get a decent service in every part of the country but it is of the essence if you have local charities and local volunteers that you will get some where there are more than others.
(Mr Gieve) I will ask Jane to comment on this too but, as you can see, we are at arm's length from the actual provision of the advice to the service to the victims and we rely very much on Victim Support to improve -
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes. I am very grateful to you for raising the issue of specifically vulnerable victims. There is one aspect of Victim Support which has not been mentioned, which is that we are fundamentally a multi-agency organisation ourselves. Every local Victim Support scheme has to have the membership and backing of the local police, Probation Service, Social Services and other voluntary organisations. One of the principles of work in Victim Support is that we must work with other specialist agencies. One of the measures that we look at when we inspect our local members is the extent to which they refer on to other specialist agencies and in any area they should be reviewing the number of services available, including the voluntary sector and the other organisations that they feel comfortable to work with, where they know that a good service will be provided and making referrals on to specialist services. One of the problems that we have is that there are not that many specialist services. That means that we have also had to develop our own training programmes for domestic violence, for racist crime. We have a training programme for gay men who are victims of sexual crime and assault and all of our volunteers have to take the specialist training before they can offer that type of support and at local level we decide which gaps we have to fill and how many people we need to be trained to do that area of work. But of course, as you say, it is extra expense where we have to do that and it tends to be local money that we have to use to do that.
(Mrs Furniss) Certainly the intention of the National Strategy, which John referred to earlier, which we will be publishing in a couple of months time, is cross-Government department strategy so it is not a Home Office strategy. It will include Department of Health and Housing issues, for example, because what we know is that victims of crime have all sorts of varieties of needs according to the situation they are in, the person they are, the kind of crime they have suffered, and it may be that they need housing support or it may be that they need specialist health provision. So the whole point of that strategy is to say, what kind of range of services do we need? Who are the best people to provide that? How do we engage those departments and those local agencies in helping us to respond to the whole variety of victims' needs?
Chairman: Thank you very much for that.
Geraint Davies: Right. More power to your elbow. Thank you very much.
Chairman: Thank you, Mr Davies. David Rendel.
(Mr Gieve) Well, firstly - and Helen may want to comment - I think Victim Support are engaged in Restorative Justice experiments.
(Mr Gieve) Sure. Absolutely.
(Mr Gieve) I attended a Restorative Justice conference about a month ago and I could see in that case how valuable it was for the witness and we are running a number of experimental schemes with slightly different forms of Restorative Justice (i.e. different stages in the process) for different sorts of crime and we are interested in getting the results from that and it may well be that we will want to fund more in the future. I do not want to rule that out at all. But at the moment we are experimenting with a range of different types of scheme.
(Mr Gieve) Yes, but I will just repeat one point. Victim Support deal with victims for whom the offender is never found, and that is the majority of victims, so I do not think it is an either/or here, there is also a balance. Restorative Justice, if it works perfectly, both helps the victim and reduces re-offending and possibly reduces the cost of the court hearings and the cost of the punishment but it is for a limited number of cases, namely those where we have identified the offender, the victim is happy to go ahead with it, and so on. Helen, you are engaged in this, are you not?
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes, if I may. I think that there is so little money spent on victims already the idea of providing an additional way of dealing with offenders out of victims' money is something that I would certainly be very against.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes.
(Dame Helen Reeves) My answer is quite simply, no. No, I do not think that any Restorative Justice programme is designed as a victim service. It certainly is not a priority -
(Dame Helen Reeves) Some victims.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Sometimes, some victims, but if you ask most people who have been the victim of crime what their priorities are to put them back where they were before or to get on with their lives meeting the offender would probably be very low on the list. They do want time to talk about their reactions, time for their families, sometimes they need property repaired or restored in some way. This issue has come about largely to find a constructive way of dealing with offenders and for that we support it absolutely and we support victims but it is not an alternative way of serving victims.
(Dame Helen Reeves) No.
(Dame Helen Reeves) It is a very small number, only 3 per cent of all victims -
(Dame Helen Reeves) - only 3 per cent of all victims ever get their case even solved so the possibility of Restorative Justice or a court appearance is actually minute and to put more resources into that at the expense of Victim Support I think would be a serious step backwards.
(Mr Gieve) I think that the service which Victim Support offers victims does overall make it more likely that they will come forward and that they will go to court but it is intrinsic in that service that it is victim-centred and you are responding to what they want. But that does not mean that it does not have any effect in supporting them and giving them encouragement -
(Mr Gieve) Yes, absolutely, and of the number of our ineffective trials a high percentage are caused by witnesses not turning up for one reason or another. We are, through the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, experimenting in the next few months with different ways of trying to support, encourage and ensure that more witnesses turn up at court. That is something which the Crown Prosecution Service and the police are very engaged in.
(Mrs Furniss) May I add, because what we have done so far is to focus our resources through Victim Support on witnesses from the time they are called to court and through that process to ensure that we support people through the process of giving their evidence. What we are now learning is how much more needs to be done prior to them being called to court from the moment someone reports a crime through to whether the police apprehend the suspect and that actually the chances of a witness sustaining their evidence to help the police apprehend a suspect are greater the more support they are given.
(Mrs Furniss) It will either be the police or the Crown Prosecution Service depending upon the point at which the support is needed. Obviously the police have the main contact with witnesses because they take the witness statements. The Crown Prosecution Service only have contact if a charge is made.
(Mrs Furniss) It needs to be both. Undoubtedly it needs to be both.
(Mrs Furniss) No, Victim Support certainly support the witnesses once they are called to court but until there is a court case there is no role in the current provision for Victim Support to get involved, other than the fact that a witness may also be a victim so they get the support through the Victim Support element.
(Mr Gieve) I think there are two different things. There is the service for victims, most of whose cases never get to court, and then there is a specific service for witnesses and certainly the Witness Service that Victim Support provide is all about reassuring the witnesses, giving them information, supporting them while they are in the court building, and so on. So that is a specific service which is very valuable in ensuring that witnesses feel comfortable giving evidence.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes.
(Dame Helen Reeves) I would have to look up the exact percentage but they do cover all ranges from early 20s through to late 70s but the majority are, as you would expect, middle-aged women -
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes.
(Dame Helen Reeves) We do not match victims at all, not by race or age or even by sex except for sexual offences, but we do try to make sure we have a balanced workforce amongst our volunteers and we do make a lot of effort to recruit from, for example, colleges and universities, where younger people might see this as an important part of their career development and we do get some excellent volunteers. Also young lawyers frequently do Victim Support for a period.
(Dame Helen Reeves) No, our terms of reference of a crime as defined by statute - and we have only a very small number of other cases we would deal with, which would only be in very extreme circumstances, for example a road death which was caused by an accident or perhaps a suicide if there was really nobody else around to deal with it, but normally we would look for other agencies to deal with those problems.
Mr Rendel: Thank you, Chairman.
Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr Rendel. Mr Brian Jenkins.
(Dame Helen Reeves) We all are.
(Mr Gieve) In terms of volunteers generally, we have been set as one of our main targets for the next three years to increase by 5 per cent the number of people participating in the community and part of how we are going to do that is to support in a variety of ways increased volunteering. I mentioned the Experience Corps, the Millennium Volunteers Time Bank, that is about matching volunteers with opportunities. We will try and work with other services to help them recruit more volunteers for particular problems. This is quite difficult. Britain has quite a lot of volunteers already, as far as we know, internationally relatively speaking but we are determined to get some more.
(Mr Gieve) Yes.
(Mr Gieve) We are still writing our strategy on how to increase volunteers but when we publish our business plan at the end of this financial year we will set out our plan for doing so. It would be nice to offer financial incentives, and so on, but I do not know whether that is possible and I do not know whether we will have the money for that. So that is one possibility. I think a lot more is about information and helping the community groups who want the volunteers to sell their wares really.
(Dame Helen Reeves) I am afraid I have not got a figure for that. We estimate at national level for training of the staff it is approximately 1 per cent of our total budget but all of the training of volunteers is done at local level and we have quite ambitious plans for developing serious crime training from the national organisation, which is estimated at approximately half a million a year. It is a lot of money for training but of course it is a good investment because of the value of the work that people are then able to do.
(Dame Helen Reeves) You mean the Victim Support organisation? I have just been given the figure of £200 for basic training of an individual volunteer, but then of course we have specialist training on top of that for the specialist crimes.
(Dame Helen Reeves) We have always maintained a code of practice for our members, which is a very detailed code, which covers all aspects of management, employment, training recruitment and also the type of work they have to do, the victims they have to see, the range of services they have to offer.
(Dame Helen Reeves) We have not set specific targets -
(Dame Helen Reeves) - but we are planning to do it now.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Definitely. I think you will see in the report that we have just founded our first Quality and Standards Unit, which was part of the Membership Services Unit but it is now going to be a stand-alone department which will report directly to the committee which gives out the Government money. They will review our members in a more stringent way than before. We are developing those programmes, we are talking to other inspectorates and I have in fact today got the first draft that I have seen of some targets that people will be set in terms of qualitative assessment. We have always done quantitative assessment but qualitative assessment we have struggled with, like many other agencies, for many years. But we hope that we will have some targets quite soon.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Frankly, no. Our experience is that the coordinators, who do have quite clear job descriptions, are there to recruit, manage and support the volunteers and my impression - and I visit a lot of members all over the country - is that volunteers really value the level of support they get. They also value the level of training. I think they feel that they are being taken more seriously if we invest time and money in their training and give them proper professional back-up and support. I actually get far more complaints from volunteers that they think the coordinators are not paid enough. They are definitely not well paid staff, they are at the lower end of the voluntary sector market.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Oh, yes. All of our volunteers are trained to recognise cases in which there are problems that go beyond their skills and to discuss these with their supervisor. Their supervisor should have professional knowledge of signs and symptoms that suggest a different type of intervention. If not there are professional people on the committee who certainly would know but again the problem is having the external resource to which we can refer. It is not that easy to get on a psychiatric waiting list and if we go through GPs there are many GPs who I am afraid still do not acknowledge the amount of emotional disruption that can be caused by a crime.
(Mr Gieve) Well, we are and I think, if you look at p.21, some score over 100 per cent so some of these are based on different ways of counting. But I think the point that Helen raised earlier was that following the Data Protection Act a number of forces felt they could not pass on details and we issued last year guidance to them to make this automatic unless -
(Mr Gieve) - and we have been talking since. No, it does not immediately have an impact because you have still got people in the local police station saying "Well, I know it's illegal to do this" and not referring people on. So we have been talking to those forces and I think we have made progress. Most of them now do operate the system, which is for lesser crimes your name is passed on unless you object and for more serious crimes it is the other way round, you have positively to assent. But there is still some variation and we will still work on that.
(Mr Gieve) I do not know whether it will be one of the handful of key indicators but I will let you know. I am afraid I do not know whether it is a target or not.
(Mr Gieve) What we have for that, which goes a bit wider, is that we are just at the moment agreeing with the police force what their key indicators are but one of them will be the number of cases brought to justice and obviously if your witness does not bring it up you do not bring it to justice. But it also covers a wider range of thing such as if you do not do the paperwork properly, or whatever. So that bit of it is implicit in a broader target.
(Mr Gieve) Yes. Jane is not just in charge of the Justice and Victim's Unit, she has just taken charge of our Criminal Justice performance team, which is precisely trying to address not just the witnesses point but the broad series of faults in the system which mean that so many people spend a lot of time hanging around or they do not get summoned on the right day, or if they do get there on the right day everything is adjourned. So we are trying to attack the inefficiencies in the system at every point and we have got a major team working on that.
Mr Jenkins: We will look forward to the improvement. My time is up.
Chairman: Thank you, Mr Jenkins. Angela Eagle.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes, inevitably where you get inner city areas with a great deal of crime you need far more volunteers and there is also a lot of competition from volunteers from other agencies and so it is much more difficult to recruit in the high crime inner city areas.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes, that is correct. I have been reviewing some of the figures in London and it is quite clear that the contact level as well as the referral level in some of the inner city boroughs in London is much lower than certainly for rural areas elsewhere in the country. This is an issue that we are going to have to deal with once we have sorted out the allocation of funding, which is happening at the moment. We hope to get the Home Office money fairly distributed. We then have the problem with local government and fundraising because they vary enormously, even in different parts of London and other inner city areas.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Equally to all areas according to -
(Dame Helen Reeves) It really is the fact that it is Government money and therefore it is according to need; it is according to crime rate. It will be allocated entirely according to crime rate and the amount of work going through the courts.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes, they will get more money.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes.
(Dame Helen Reeves) It is there already actually.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes.
(Dame Helen Reeves) In terms of London, which I was using as an example, they already have their allocation so that will not actually make any difference. There are one or two areas where they have not got their full allocation where that will change but in terms of the question you are asking me that is not really relevant because most of those high crime areas do have their whole allocation. The real problem is that where you get very generous local authorities in one borough and not generous local authorities in another borough it definitely affects the quality of service.
(Dame Helen Reeves) It is harder to find private money but sometimes you do get very generous local authorities even in the poorer boroughs because they recognise the importance of the problem. Unfortunately what this is going to mean in some areas is that we will have to use junior staff which are currently paid for by local government money in some London boroughs to absorb some of the workload for which we cannot recruit volunteers. That is already happening.
(Mr Gieve) As I think Dame Helen was saying, our funding is distributed on a formula based on need so it does go to the more needy areas. Then the question is, do you go beyond that and try to compensate for low local funding?
(Mr Gieve) From our point of view we have to be extremely careful about that because if we promise that we will step in to provide the funding if the local authority does not we are inviting them not to provide it. That is the reality. As Helen says, there is a mixed picture on local authorities. Some of them see this as a priority and others as less so.
(Dame Helen Reeves) As I said, at the moment we are still looking at improving our recruitment procedures and it is important to recognise that our statistics, which will be published in about three weeks time, will show an increase of 1,000 volunteers over the past year, which is showing a trend in the right direction.
(Dame Helen Reeves) I have not analysed them in that way and I cannot actually tell you, I am afraid.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes. I am sorry, I was just handed a note saying that London actually gets 39 per cent of the Government money at the moment because of the amount of crime which goes on in London. So it does go according to the amount of crime. But with volunteers, as I said, I think we may eventually, once we have tested all of the possibilities for recruitment, have to face the fact that in some areas staff will have to do some of the work which would otherwise be done by volunteers and the way in which we are funded actually makes that extremely difficult to plan for.
(Mr Gieve) This is a developing relationship and I absolutely take your point that it would be perverse to end up with the worst service where it is most needed.
(Mr Gieve) We have gone quite a long way over the last couple of years in particular to make sure that the Government plans are going through on the basis of need and if it would be possible for us to move to a 100 per cent funded service but there is a question of resources and opportunity costs. So we are aware of the problem and we will try and work with Victim Support so far as we can to meet it.
(Mr Gieve) Well, it could well do. I think there is a difference between new services where we decide, if we get the resources or when we get the resources, to introduce a scheme for road traffic victims. I think we can then go out to competition. But absolutely what the voluntary sector needs is some certainty for planning and, as Helen will tell you, we have not really provided that satisfactorily in the past. If we were to say we were going to put the whole thing out to competition in a year's time that would raise problems. So that is a trade-off which we have to get right.
(Mr Gieve) I will ask Jane to fill this out but the Grant-in-Aid Memorandum sets out the sort of services we are providing funding for and we are engaged with Victim Support in discussing the basis upon which those funds should be allocated out to local areas. To a great extent the local service is a demand determined service and that is something -
(Mr Gieve) So we have not felt that we wanted to go in and say "Victims of this crime should be given priority over other sorts of victims" partly because actually different people are affected in very different ways. So it is not the case that someone who is a victim of a serious crime is always more traumatised than someone who is the victim of a lesser crime. We have got to deal with this on an individual basis.
(Mrs Furniss) I think in actual fact what we have specified is a minimum level. We have talked about the three priorities. One is being able to provide support for victims referred by the police. The second is extending the Witness Service from the Crown Court to all the Magistrates' Courts and we have achieved that. The third is providing a telephone help line for people who choose to refer themselves via that route and providing that within certain parameters of time. So we have actually been quite specific. We could of course go further. We could begin to talk about numbers of referrals, we could talk about quality standards, and this year is our test year really. This year is intended to be the year in which we set baselines in order then to agree with Victim Support for next year how specific we can be about the quality and standards and size of the service.
Chairman: If we could remember to speak up because that last exchange we could not hear at this end of the table, I am sorry. Mr Williams, your last question then.
(Mr Gieve) Well, I think it is very important.
(Mr Gieve) Yes.
(Mr Gieve) Yes.
(Mr Gieve) No, it is not derisory and I am rather surprised you are telling me that
£28 million is a derisory sum of money.
(Mr Gieve) Normally this Committee is telling me how much it is.
(Mr Gieve) Less than 1 per cent, I would guess.
(Mr Gieve) Yes.
(Mr Gieve) Yes.
(Mr Gieve) Well, okay, I can see there is a strong body of opinion on the Committee that we should be spending more on this and I take note of that. I would like to spend more on this. I do not think that the service is derisory and therefore I do not think the sum of money is derisory. This is a national service in which Victim Support broadly deal with all the cases, the victims, who are referred to them from the police and many others besides. Clearly Helen would like more funding and I would like to give it to her but to say that the Victim Support service and the Witness Support service is derisory seems to me to fly in the face of this report, which says that witnesses and victims are on the whole very satisfied with it.
(Mr Gieve) I do not think that is right -
(Mr Gieve) Well, if you look further down in that paragraph you will see that since 2000 funding allocations have been based broadly on a formula which relates to the amount of crime and the amount of court workload. So yes, we have moved from a very uneven distribution but we are moving to one which is more related to need.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes.
(Dame Helen Reeves) No.
(Mr Gieve) I do not need convincing that victims are a high priority but if you look at the following sentence it says from 2002-03 Victim Support is aiming to bring areas' allocations into line and Helen just said that London was getting 39 per cent of their funding.
(Dame Helen Reeves) No, that is not correct actually.
(Mr Gieve) I am sorry, is that not right?
(Dame Helen Reeves) No, it is my mistake, sorry. May I answer?
(Dame Helen Reeves) I am not a Home Office witness of course, I am here in my own right.
(Dame Helen Reeves) The issue with London, I think, and with many of the other figures in the report is that they are historic and it was a period of development in which London at that stage had not got any of its Magistrates' Court Witness Services and it also had not decided on its structure and therefore it was being held back a bit in terms of its overall development. They have now dealt with that. The Magistrates' Courts are all up and running and they now have their full allocation.
(Mr Gieve) Yes, absolutely, it was on the tip of my tongue.
(Mr Gieve) Are you asking how it can have happened or what we can do about it?
(Mr Gieve) Yes, I think these are very low numbers and we will try, with the police, to push them up.
(Mr Gieve) The reason it happens is that different police forces have different practices. It is a devolved service.
(Mr Gieve) I do not know why ---
(Mr Gieve) --- and I am not going to hazard a guess since you know the area a lot better than I do, but Jane or Helen, do you know why?
(Mrs Furniss) I do not know why two police forces are behaving differently but we expect them to behave the same.
(Dame Helen Reeves) In almost all cases it is the attitude of an individual, sometimes the Data Protection officer, who in all honesty believes that the advice which has been given by the Home Office is illegal, in spite of the fact that it has been endorsed by the Information Commissioner, and in some cases it might be the Chief Constable. There are various examples here. What I can tell you is that again these figures are historic and if we were to do the same graph again now you would find other forces where they had very low rates of referral and some of these right at the bottom, particularly North Wales, for example, has gone right up to the top. It is very much an individual prejudice, I am afraid.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes, that would normally be the case across the board. Again I could not give you the individual details of each of these forces but this is a problem that we face continuously.
Mr Williams: I think I have made clear my feeling that this is not the glowing report that I thought it was. When I first read it I thought it was very good. The more I looked at it the more aware I became of the ramshackle nature of the system we are operating and, as I say, the sheer arbitrariness of whether a victim receives any support or not. Thank you, Chairman.
(Mr Gieve) I do not think it is ramshackle. I think that this is a moving picture. We will try and provide you, if you like, with an update of this chart, which is for two years ago. This is not a lack of funding but in any chart I have seen of local authority performance or police performance on anything you get a distribution and obviously part of our job in the Home Office is to try and push the worst performers up towards the best and that is what we will do here.
£26 million, why not £30 million, why not £32 million? How did you come to this decision?
(Mr Gieve) Well, it was quite complicated in that we had a basic -
(Mr Gieve) I think we started from the figure we had last year, which was £25 million, and then we looked to see whether we could afford a bit more. Victim Support had ideas and proposals for spending quite a lot more and we managed to find a few more million. That is how it happened.
(Dame Helen Reeves) £60 million.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Largely because the amount of work which has been going into the Witness Service recently has tended to divert some resource from the basic community Victim Support.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes. Our level of contact with victims, I am afraid, has gone down so that now we are having personal contact, conversations, with approximately 23 per cent of all the victims who are referred to us.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Twenty-three per cent.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Because of the lack of resources.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Well, everybody, yes. If I could just add that although we have not been able to do up to date research on the level of victims who are likely to need personal contact some very old research that we did very near the beginning of Victim Support suggests more like 45 per cent will need either some sort of factual information or personal support or assistance going through one of the procedures they have to go through following a crime. So the fact that it is 23 per cent suggests to us that we are operating at probably about 50 per cent of the capacity that we could be offering and it is figures like that also with the Witness Service. We know that we do not have the money to expand our services to the vulnerable witnesses, which is what we would very much like to do, which is why we need again almost double the money for the Witness Service to provide those specialist services for the very vulnerable people, including children.
(Mr Gieve) No, what Helen is saying is that she could use a lot more money and if that is what is restraining it, it is not a matter of finding other providers it is a matter of finding money and she put in a bid to us as part of the Spending Review for a big influx of funds. We put in our bid to the Treasury. We did not get all of our bid and she is not going to get all of hers, although we are still discussing how much we can afford.
(Mr Molan) I believe the position is that the Treasury agreed a sort of block settlement for Criminal Justice expenditure and it is a matter for the Home Office to decide how much to carve out within that block.
(Mr Gieve) It is down to us. Yes, of course it is down to us. Of course I would like to spend more on victims and witnesses. I think there is a lot we can do within our existing spending to improve the service through police, courts, and so on but everything has got its opportunity cost.
(Mr Gieve) That is right.
(Mr Gieve) Well, as we have said, I think in our White Paper, we would like to introduce a service for road victims and we have yet to identify the funding which would allow us to do that. I should add though that Victim Support from their own funding do help some road victims, I think, in some areas.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes.
Chairman: Thank you. Angela Eagle.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes, we are seeing less victims than at the very early stages, long before we had Government money actually.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes, the range of duties is now very wide because we also do a lot of inter-agency work, a lot of crime prevention, for example. We sit on many fora for the prevention of domestic violence and racist crime, which we value. We think it is very important work. But it does mean that we are not quite so focussed on just providing that community support for ordinary victims of crime.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes, we do have a view on this. We hope to have meetings with the Home Office in the very near future. It has been discussed at ministerial level. But I think our view is that although it is important for the organisation to remain voluntary while there is still a lot of reform that needs to be done we do think that our core services should be funded because people do have a right to equality of service in all parts of the country and we need to be able to plan and manage our services in such a way that they can be provided.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes.
Angela Eagle: Thank you.
Chairman: Brian Jenkins wants to ask a question.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Yes. In principle the answer is yes. We still have the difficulty that not everybody over 60 needs that sort of help, and many people do, so it is always a problem about defining victims by any type of category. But if you have got people who have very few resources, are living alone and have a burglary I would say in most cases they would benefit from a visit and the volunteer could assist with networking in the neighbourhood to see if there are other people who could befriend. Also, the other thing we have not mentioned is that we do in nearly all parts of the country now provide practical crime prevention to prevent repeat victimisation, which we know is a very serious problem.
(Mr Gieve) Yes, I do, of course I do and in our White Paper we have said we want to introduce a code of practice which sets out in effect certain minimum entitlements for victims from the services as well as in terms of Victim Support and a right of appeal to an ombudsman to support that. That is something we would really like to do, yes.
Chairman: Thank you. Geraint Davies.
(Mr Gieve) I do not remember the answer and I do not think I would want to reveal it anyway as part of advice to Ministers on policy.
(Mr Gieve) It certainly is advice to Ministers. It is advice to my Minister as to what he asks the Chancellor for and I am not going to be drawn into that.
(Mr Gieve) No, I did not ask . When I said "We asked the Treasury" the process for this is for the Home Secretary to write to the Treasury and I am not going to tell you what he said in his letter. Apart from that, what Rob says is absolutely right. In the end you get an allocation which has certain ringfenced items in it and certain block budgets and we are still working out how much we can afford within the non- ringfenced items at the moment for Victim Support and indeed for other things in the light of the other pressures we have got on us.
(Mr Gieve) I am not sure. I have not got an answer as to how much the ideal amount would be.
(Sir John Bourn) Of course you are entitled, Chairman, to ask for whatever information you wish to have. It is, though, the convention over many years that information of this kind, if the witness feels that he cannot reveal it, he is entitled to say that to you. Some witnesses when this question has been asked have indeed offered the figure and have felt they could respond to the Committee but I think the conventions and procedure do lead to the conclusion that if the witness feels that it would be revealing what he feels to be advice to Ministers then he can say so and stand on his position.
(Mr Gieve) I will reflect upon it but I feel I have been extremely helpful, perhaps too helpful already, which is why you are piling in behind!
Chairman: All right. I think Frank Field wanted to come in.
(Mr Gieve) Yes, certainly there are bits of expenditure which we are trying to reduce. We are trying to reduce the costs of sickness absence, for example, in our services. We are trying to reduce the costs of waste in various ways.
(Mr Gieve) No. That is absolutely right, I would like to have more money for all of them, all the main services certainly.
(Mr Gieve) Well, we have a quite elaborate process, which I used to run when I was in the Treasury but which ultimately leaves the decision on the balance between different programmes and the allocation of resources to the Cabinet let by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister and I am sure they are very concerned to reflect the pressures from constituents in the country.
(Mr Gieve) Well, I do not know your constituency very well at all and you do, so I will not venture an opinion on whether they are wrong. There is support for more spending on police across the country but there is also support for more spending on most public services and it is the job of Government to decide what is affordable overall and we do have a highly developed and political process for deciding how the money is allocated. From my angle, of course I would like to be allocated more.
Chairman: Thank you, Mr Field. Gerry Steinberg has the last question, I think.
(Mr Gieve) What this chart reflects is whether the police refer people on to Victim Support and what you are saying is that it goes wider than that, it is about whether victims are kept in touch with the progress of investigations and if there is a court case they are kept in touch with that. I absolutely agree that the standard of service for victims and other witnesses is not as good as we would like it to be and our Victim Strategy, which we are going to produce, will look at the end to end process and not just at the counselling and support offered through Victim Support.
(Dame Helen Reeves) Obviously we have had policies for many years that victims should be kept informed and it is Government policy. It is definitely going to be -
(Dame Helen Reeves) How do you make it work?
(Dame Helen Reeves) Well, I think, as with everything else, the police have said that even though they have had a Victim's Charter which has required them to give this information since 1990 in fact I do not think there was a force in the country which actually put in place the provisions to enable it to happen. It does need quite a lot of computer technology, it needs more letters, it needs more telephone calls, and so on.
(Dame Helen Reeves) It is all about resources, yes, and those issues have tended in the past to be very low priority compared with the issues of dealing with the offender. I do hope that the new Code of Practice and the new White Paper, the new Bill, will eventually mean that that becomes a much higher priority for the Criminal Justice agencies.
(Mr Gieve) Yes, resources, but that is the resources for the police and the CPS to enable them to provide a better service and that is another pressure on our funds, yes.
Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr Gieve. Thank you very much, Dame Helen. You will remember that you did promise us an update on table 13 on p.21. Before I end, could I just pay a tribute to Dame Helen. We get lots of witnesses here, very high powered witnesses, but I am not sure we often get a witness who has spent 22 years working in the field, I think.
Mr Alan Williams: Hear, hear.
(Dame Helen Reeves) No, I hope not. Thank you.
Chairman: This is clearly a very important issue when 28 per cent of adults in England and Wales are the subject of crime, often very severely traumatised. You are providing £28 million and we have had a bit of a debate about that and I think you can guess what we are going to say in our report. But thank you, Mr Gieve, for coming before us today. We are very grateful. Thank you.