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Britain should be a hostile environment for serious organised crime


3 min read

Five years on since the government published the Serious and Organised Crime Strategy, our country has been shaken by a pandemic, war in Europe, and political volatility at home and overseas. While successive governments have focused on navigating these major challenges, the criminal underworld has increasingly tried to crawl out of the gutter and onto Britain’s streets.

Despite the valiant work of those who serve in our crime fighting and security agencies, drug use, theft, and fraud are rising. Our country is less safe, our future less secure. A new approach is needed, not just an update of the old one. A new Serious and Organised Crime Strategy should focus on turbocharging the quantity and quality of interventions to disrupt and defeat the activities of serious organised crime in the United Kingdom – but that’s just the start. Britain should be a hostile environment for serious organised crime built on a multi-pronged approach, which is relentless in countering the worst criminal activity plaguing our country. 

This approach starts at home, in our communities. Too many children are losing touch with support services and falling into the reaches of the drug trade. The children’s commissioner for England believes that 27,000 children belong to county lines gangs – that’s a third of the size of the British army. This alone should compel us to act to improve early years provision, school safeguarding, and child mental health services as an integral part of our arsenal to disrupt and defeat serious organised crime. Stronger communities mean weaker criminal gangs.   

While it used to be said that there was honour among thieves, there is no honour to the modern criminal mastermind. Kingpins of international criminal gangs don’t care much about lines on maps and 70 per cent of fraud in the UK is committed by perpetrators who are based overseas, with £580m lost to fraudsters in the first six months of this year alone. Foreign scam factories are conning British people on an industrial scale.  

Foreign scam factories are conning British people on an industrial scale

The UK must strengthen relationships with international partners to tackle serious organised crime upstream, overseas, and online. Strong alliances are built on respect, trust and co-operation. The new Home Secretary, fresh from the Foreign Office, should know better than most that government needs to build on existing international frameworks to apprehend and bring supranational criminals to justice.   

Doing so will help defeat human traffickers. Misery is their business and right now business is booming. The number of people crossing the Channel on small boats has risen from 299 in 2018 to over 45,000 last year. We need a targeted and tough approach to traffickers that focuses on results, not rhetoric. That’s why a new partnership with Europol would help stop human trafficking and smuggling long before it reaches the Channel. We must also defend ourselves against foreign states sponsoring and profiting from serious organised crime in all its forms. The Home Secretary should be asking if the right structures are in place across Whitehall to counter state-sponsored serious organised crime.   

He should also be asking how we nurture the brightest and best in public service. Do our modern-day Alan Turings want to work at GCHQ, or do they feel that the most innovative work is happening elsewhere? I want this government to develop a proper workforce plan so we can nurture the brightest and best to keep the UK safe. 

It’s time to change tack in the fight against serious organised crime, and it must be a higher government priority. Labour will take and keep the fight upstream, overseas, and online – keeping the criminal underworld in the gutter, and off our streets. The public demands it, criminal gangs fear it, and we must work to deliver it.

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