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  • Writer's pictureProf Donna Hall

Tackling Violence through Integrated Place-Based Teams

Violence Reduction Units are a great example of how central government policy can translate effectively to the local level to proactively tackle problems at the root cause says MV Non-executive Professor Donna Hall. 

What is the point of multi-agency place-based working? Does it really make a difference to outcomes in communities or is it just the latest pre-election policy talk?


In 2019 the UK Home Office introduced 18 Violence Reduction Units (VRUs) as part of The Serious Violence Fund. The aim was to reduce violent crime, particularly knife crime and homicide, amongst young people in targeted areas. In 2022 an additional 2 VRUs were established. The Home Office selected the areas based on hospital admission data for serious violence.


The idea for VRUs originated in Scotland in 2004 where a public health approach to violence reduction took account of the root causes of violence including poverty, educational attainment, domestic violence and mental health.


The aim of the units is to lead and coordinate a preventative, whole-system approach to violence reduction which focuses on multi-agency working, data sharing and analysis, engaging young people and communities, and evidence-based interventions.


Evaluation shows that so far there are some early but promising statistically significant results with a demonstrated reduction of hospital admissions as a result of violent injury in the target areas.


It's brilliant to see the importance of multiagency place-based teams focused on prevention being recognised and funded by a central government department, albeit on a trial basis with matched funding being sought.

This backs up other work from areas like Wigan, where The Wigan Deal incorporated seven integrated place-based teams working across the police, fire and rescue, health, housing, council including public health and social care, Department of Work and Pensions and, importantly, the community and voluntary sector. Joint work over a ten-year period led to an increase in healthy life expectancy of seven years in the most deprived wards, as well as improvements in economic and crime outcomes for local communities.


Place-based teams focusing on data sharing, both hard data and soft local intelligence means that individuals and families can receive bespoke and targeted support and attention before problems escalate, be they health or violence related.


Rather than being left to navigate the increasing complexity of public services and available support with their separate eligibility criteria and access points, multiagency teams can create a 'no wrong door' approach. This means public sector professionals and community groups can work together to support the young person and whole family in a connected and human way. This prevents the cycle of services referring them on after repeatedly assessments for help they are often deemed “not yet bad enough” to access.


In Wigan we discovered that 80% of our limited multi-agency resources were being spent on repeated assessment and referral through pour fractured systems. We thought there has to be a better way.


Creating a plan for each child and family, highlighted and identified through risk stratification of factors, including readiness for school or unplanned hospital admissions, meant professionals could work in partnership with the family in a relational human-to-human model rather than a siloed, transactional model.


Assessment of the VRUs after five years reveal a need to:


  • increase preventative services in target areas for example youth services, early years and education to address the root causes of violence

  • improve collaboration with voluntary and community sector organisations for more effective grass roots interventions

  • further enhance coordination, communication and transparency across stakeholders

  • secure long-term funding to enable better evidence-based interventions, staff retention and sustainability

  • shift the focus from police-led units to council led for a more place-based response.


If we are serious about place based working as a post-election public sector policy shift we require the following five key changes:


  1. Roll out at scale and pace multiagency integrated place-based teams to address wider socio-economic issues such as low income, crime, educational attainment etc

  2. Address the root causes of problems together rather than respond when it’s too late 

  3. The community and voluntary sector need to be treated as equal partners and funded to help to deliver change as they can get to the parts of the community public servants can’t reach!

  4. Develop cross departmental funding pots that can be mainstreamed into a total place approach but not just restricted to a few limited services.

  5. Develop place leaders rather than service leaders


VRUs are a great example of how central government policy can translate effectively to the local level to proactively tackle problems at the root cause.


Let’s now mainstream this approach and make integration in a place the default setting for effective public services.

You can learn more about MV's work on VRUs here, including catching up on our recent webinar.


Professor Donna Hall CBE is a non-executive director at Mutual Ventures and former Chief Executive of Wigan Council.


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