Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Kathryn Holloway has welcome government funding for the force's violence reduction unit.
The Home Office issued a grant of £880,000 for Mrs Holloway to set up the county’s new Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU) in 2019, but this ran for a single year only until April 2020.
Now, the PCC has been told that she can secure an additional £880,000 to fund the work of VERU until April 2021, once the Home Office has approved the plan.
VERU brings together organisations including police, local government, health, community leaders and other key partners to prevent serious violence among young people by understanding its root causes and addressing them together.
Around 35 different projects across Bedfordshire are set to receive their share of £400,000 through VERU's 2019-2020 grant, aimed at diverting young people away from criminal life.
Mrs Holloway said: “It’s the best possible New Year present to hear that the Home Office is dedicated to the on-going funding of these specialist units but this has to be a cautious welcome from me until the money is fully secured, of course.
“Quite rightly, police have always said that they cannot end serious youth violence alone.
"Enforcement has to be balanced with diversion from gang activity in the first place and support for those who’ve been lured in and want to leave.
"Only by working with our partners such as the local authorities, the Youth Offending Service, those in health and local charities working with young people can we do this and the VERU is about genuine joint working in partnership - it’s about action not words."
Bedfordshire's three local authorities are key partners for the VERU and all have backed the additional funding.
Central Bedfordshire Council’s executive member for community services, Cllr Ian Dalgarno said: “We welcome the Home Office’s decision to extend funding to our violence and exploitation reduction unit (VERU).
"The impact that issues such as knife crime and criminal exploitation have on our communities are devastating, particularly on our most vulnerable residents and young people.
“We’re committed to working with our partners to help educate and prevent people from getting involved with or falling victim to serious violence. We will continue to tackle it wherever it occurs.”
Bedfordshire's two youth offending services are also heavily involved with the VERU scheme.
The PCC will now submit a plan for the year ahead and announce a new round of community grant funding once this is agreed with the Home Office.
“It’s hugely important that communities themselves are involved by applying for grants for neighbourhood projects in those areas which are hotspots for such crime or with the best will in the world we cannot get to the root causes of the gang based violence which has devastated young lives in Bedfordshire and those of their families,” said the PCC.
Kimberley Lamb, project manager with direct responsibility for day-to-day coordination of the VERU, said: “The support for the VERU’s work from across different partners and our communities has been remarkable.
“This includes leadership from the likes of the PCC and our local authority partners, as well as our communities and grassroots looking to work with us to make a difference.
“Everyone is pulling in the same direction to make this new unit a success, and unleash the transformative work we are planning to put an end to the exploitation of vulnerable young people in Bedfordshire.”