A probe into modern-day slavery in Bucks has been launched as county councillors called for more funding to tackle exploitation.
The Safer and Stronger Bucks Partnership Board – of which Bucks County Council is a member – has commissioned research from the Jill Dando Institute to help understand the extent of modern slavery locally and what is known about offenders, victims and locations.
But a council select committee was told that while 2015 Government legislation gives councils a statutory duty to report potential victims of modern slavery to the Home Office and support them, there’s no financial support from Whitehall.
Community safety co-ordinator Martha Edwards said the hidden nature of the crimes was the biggest challenge facing agencies wanting to help people. Harm caused was long lasting and demand on services great.
The council has now launched a campaign raising awareness of modern slavery, which traps vulnerable victims in forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and child trafficking.
Martin Phillips, cabinet member for community engagement and public health said: “The first move towards catching the crooks who exploit vulnerable people in such an evil controlling way, is to help people recognise the signs and make it easy to report. That’s just what we’re planning with our campaign.”
However, he added that without proper funding, it feels a ‘bit like a Dad’s Army exercise’ when what was needed was an ‘arsenal of professional weaponry’.
Transport Environment and Communities Select Committee chairman David Carroll said this was a matter of critical importance and urged the partnership between council and police to work hard to tackle this ‘appalling crime’.
Only a very small proportion of the likely number of victims is reported: eight in the Thames Valley during the last quarter of 2014, compared with an estimated 100 victims in Bucks alone.