Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Local Government and Government Business
In January 2014, I published the 2013 Annual Report of the Welsh Government Anti-Slavery
Co-ordinator for Wales.
Six months on, it is opportune to update Assembly Members on the further progress we have made in tackling slavery in Wales and, in doing so, making our communities safer.
Whilst I was pleased to hear the recent announcement in the Queen’s Speech of the UK Government bringing forward legislation to tackle the crime of slavery by introducing the Modern Slavery Bill, here in Wales our action on slavery began several years ago.
The Welsh Government has led the way across the UK in tackling slavery. This is very much attributed to the aim set out in our Programme of Government to making Wales hostile to slavery and providing the best possible support to the survivors. I attend the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Slavery and am always keen to share our achievements with the other UK administrations. I believe they have much to learn from us.
In comparison to the strides we have taken, the UK Government is only now proposing a response to this terrible crime. Whilst Wales was the first country in the UK to appoint an Anti-Slavery Co-ordinator three years ago, only now is an Anti-Slavery Commissioner being introduced by the UK Government. At a strategic level, leadership is provided through the Wales Anti-Slavery Leadership Group, which we established almost two years ago, and which provides oversight and direction to tackling slavery in Wales.
I am pleased to be able to report on the further progress made since the 2013 Annual Report was published in January.
We have brought about a step change in anti-slavery training across Wales and are delivering across a number of levels, including general awareness raising and training for specific frontline practitioners and professionals, within the police, Local Authorities and the Third Sector. The quality of our training is attracting interest from across the UK.
Currently there are a limited number of referrals to the National Referral Mechanism, 34 in 2012. This increased to 50 in 2013. To establish the true picture of the scale of slavery, we are contributing to the Home Office-led group which is reviewing the National Referral Mechanism to establish whether the system provides an effective and efficient means of identifying and supporting survivors of slavery. This aligns with our own work on improving the evidence base on the incidence in Wales.
Crucially, we have developed a Survivor Care Pathway to ensure consistency in how survivors are supported wherever they present. This is being rolled out across Wales having been successfully piloted in Cardiff. Following our success in obtaining First Responder status for Bawso and New Pathways for the National Referral Mechanism, we are now seeing an increase of people referring themselves into the process who previously would not have done so for fear of intimidation, deportation or imprisonment.
We have supported the establishment of Regional Anti-Slavery Fora. I am pleased to report we now have all-Wales coverage. These Fora share good practice, information and intelligence, as well as delivering local initiatives to address local priorities. Examples include the Survivor Pathway and Anti-Slavery Multi-Agency Risk Conferences (MARACs), which prioritise support, were initially piloted by the Cardiff Forum and are now developing across Wales. Also following on from the Western Bay Forum’s Anti-Slavery Conference, ‘Sex Worker’ projects to tackle sexual exploitation, have been established in Cardiff and Western Bay. The learning from these projects will be cascaded across Wales.
We have developed Intelligence/Information Sharing protocols to ensure more law enforcement operations are taking place to bring criminals to justice and rescue people held in slavery. These protocols are now in place across all four Welsh Police Forces and the Regional Anti-Slavery Fora. The learning and good practice from ‘Operation Imperial’ the on-going Gwent Police investigation, which involved the rescue of a man who had been enslaved for thirteen years, have been passed onto the other Welsh Police Forces to assist in future investigations. As part of this ongoing investigation Gwent Police have arrested a further four men and rescued two men. The allegation being one man had been enslaved for twenty six years and the other man for seven years.
Raising public awareness and recognition within the public and Third Sectors of slavery and its survivors, has been a priority and this has been achieved through our Anti-Slavery Communications Engagement Plan. This has included our highly successful national TV advertisement and poster campaign in February, which again the UK Government is keen to emulate and the funding of Theatre versus Oppression’s hard-hitting production “Sold” on DVD, as well as an event I hosted for Welsh Government Cabinet Members, Assembly Members, Chief Constables, Police and Crime Commissioners, members of the Wales Anti-Slavery Leadership Group and other invited guests. We have also supported Anti-Slavery conferences in Cardiff, Bangor, Swansea and Wrexham.
Our funding of the North Wales Regional Anti-Slavery Coordinator, is proving successful and local initiatives such as multi-agency intelligence sharing and anti-slavery awareness training is being delivered across North Wales as a result. To further support our work locally, I have made a contribution for the next two years towards the overall funding of the Welsh Government Community Cohesion Co-ordinators, to ensure awareness raising and tackling slavery is also part of their role.
I have recently visited both Cardiff Airport and Holyhead Port, to see the security arrangements in place for tackling slavery and to meet key staff engaged in this work, including Police, UK Border Force and carriers. I also met frontline staff attending anti-slavery awareness training to equip them with the skills and confidence to tackle slavery.
It is a sad fact this heinous crime is taking place here, in Wales, in the 21st Century. I have met survivors of slavery and have been both moved and horrified by their stories. I have met dedicated Third Sector providers who have helped and supported these survivors to regain some sense of normality in their lives and, where possible, return home to their families. I have met Officers from the Crown Prosecution Service and the Police who are relentless in their efforts to identify perpetrators and bring them to justice. This is never an easy task, often with reluctant, frightened witnesses and with the force of major organised crime gangs frequently behind this growing crime.
The success we have achieved in Wales and which other countries can only aspire to, has been built on a solid foundation of partnership working. The response to the individual cases and the structures and processes we have put in place, across the devolved and non-devolved public service, with the vital input of the Third Sector, are what has made the difference.
This multi-agency response has been provided willingly, as has a commitment to work together to make our people and communities safer. We recognise no agency or Government alone can tackle slavery. We are sharing the learning from these cases to equip those on the frontline with the skills and confidence to deal with the future cases we will sadly, but inevitably, face.
The Welsh Government has made significant strides in delivering on our Programme for Government commitment to tackle slavery. I will continue to progress our agenda, in collaboration with our partners, to make Wales hostile to slavery and to provide the best possible support to survivors.