LABOUR councillors have linked falling youth service budgets to growing anti-social behaviour on Swindon’s streets.

It follows commitments by senior police officers to crack down on what they describe as a growing gang culture among youths in some areas across Swindon.

South Swindon police inspector Dave Hobman has been tasked with developing a toolkit to tackle the so-called Local Lines gangs, which have been associated with drug dealing, anti-social behaviour and thefts. The gang leaders have been accused of exploiting children as young as12-years-old, getting them to sell drugs and commit other offences.

Yesterday, the Swindon Advertiser reported moves by Central Swindon North Parish Council to employ a new youth worker. Aaron Webb will support young people in Pinehurst and Penhill, trying to ensure they are not seduced into joining the gangs.

Coun Carol Shelley, the Labour Group spokeswoman on children’s services, welcomed the appointment of a new youth worker by the parish: “Cutting away the Youth Service by Swindon Borough Council has proved to be a false economy, anti-social behaviour and crime are on the rise, as positive engagement with young people and the community decreases.

“We need to be increasingly vigilant against incoming and local criminal drugs gangs that are exploiting vulnerable young people in our poorest communities.

“A new youth worker can start to build good relationships in the community, work with the excellent volunteer groups we already have and support more local young people to be the best they can be.

“This is a start, however, much more coordinated preventative work needs to be planned and delivered, if we are to offer long term meaningful support to vulnerable communities in North Swindon and only Swindon Borough Council has the means to do that.”

Pinehurst and Penhill children’s centres closed in 2016. The borough employed health visitors to support families in their own homes. A project, Fresh Moves, was started with funding from the police and crime commissioner in 2014 to work with children aged 10 to 19, but has since appeared to have closed.

Coun Cathy Martyn, cabinet member for public safety, said: "We are already working together to provide a range of interventions both for those who find themselves drawn into the criminal justice system and for those who engage voluntarily. It is also imperative that we continue to put essential services in place to help those who are vulnerable to being drawn into this.

"We are also looking at general awareness raising so that people understand the vulnerability of the children who get caught up in these crimes and find it difficult to get out.

"I would like to thank the parish council for investing in a youth worker. The most effective way of combating any emerging gang culture is for all parts of a community to work together and share information.”

“The emergence of gangs is a national problem, not something which is confined to Swindon. Only this week elected members from all parties alongside the council’s senior officers, had a presentation from Chief Constable Kier Pritchard on the emergence of gang culture and county lines/dangerous drugs networks in Swindon. The work to combat this crime is being led by the police but with support from Swindon Borough Council and our partners."