Budget threat to prostitution strategy

IPSWICH: We don’t want a return to the dark days of winter 2006.

That was the message today amid fears that budget cuts at Suffolk County Council could disrupt the work of the town’s prostitution strategy – implemented in the wake of Steve Wright’s campaign of murder.

The county council has proposed cutting �450,000 off its �1.4million budget for social inclusion and diversity and a further �100,000 from its �166,000 budget for community safety.

In both cases it is hoping to reorganise the services and divest some of their work.

The county’s contribution to the Ipswich Prostitution Strategy, in which it is a partner alongside the police, the borough council and other organisations, comes through these budgets.

Leading county and borough councillors, and Ipswich’s MP have led the calls for the strategy – which has helped 90 vulnerable women since its launch in 2007 - to be untouched by spending cuts.

This week’s budget scrutiny meeting was told by Conservative councillors Joanna Spicer and Ann Whybrow that the county’s contribution to Ipswich Prostitution Strategy should be maintained until the administration was confident that services could be provided from other organisations.

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Mrs Spicer, a former county council chairman and cabinet member for public safety, said it was vital to continue the work of the strategy.

She said: “According to the police’s Street Prostitution Team, they have helped 90 women over the time they have been working.

“They are currently working with 29 women who are at risk of sexual exploitation.

“The team’s own figures show that there are currently no women working as street prostitutes, but what would happen to those 29 women if the team was not there?”

Mrs Spicer said it may make sense to shift the county council’s work with the street prostitution team to the police or another body – but county officials had to be completely certain that the work would not suffer before any cuts were made.

Meanwhile, borough council leader Liz Harsant, left, says she is deeply worried to hear that the county could be looking at how the strategy is funded.

She said: “I would be disturbed if there was any threat to any of the funding from the county council. They are a key partner in drawing up this strategy and I shall be speaking to my colleagues at the county as a matter of urgency.”

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said he was sure there would be no threat to the prostitution strategy. He added: “This is a red line so far as I am concerned. I am sure that the county council would not be stupid enough to do anything to endanger what has been a very successful strategy.

The work that has been done by Ipswich and Suffolk over the last four years has attracted national attention and I am sure the county would not want to put all their good work at risk.”

n Are you concerned about the effect of changes to the prostitution strategy? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

IN THE winter of 2006 Jade Reynolds lost five of her friends at the hands of serial killer Steve Wright.

The former sex worker was addicted to heroin and cocaine and worked in the streets of Ipswich to fund her habit.

She was one of the girls rescued from Wright’s path as police officers and volunteers, including those from Iceni, went out onto the streets four years ago to help her and many others.

From there the Ipswich Prostitution Strategy was born.

Today Miss Reynolds is clean, helped off the class A drugs that consumed her life, by the team at Iceni said a cut to funding and the service will see more girls back out on the streets.

“I know of a few girls who still from time to time go out on the streets,” she said. “It is really worrying to hear about funding cuts to the service, without it girls will go out and earn money thinking it is the easy way.

“Young mums and girls who are losing benefits and support may turn to the streets to make ends meet.

“It is so important as much support and help is given to these vulnerable girls, they can be helped, it has been proven.

“I am living proof.”

A CHARITY at the heart of the fight to help working girls off the streets at the time of the murders said the proposed cuts are “disappointing”.

Iceni, based in Foundation Street, is battling to stay open after they faced severe cuts to their funding earlier this year.

At the time of Steve Wright’s killing spree, co-founder Brian Tobin and his team were instrumental in helping sex workers off the streets of the town.

The drug rehabilitation charity offered support and advice to the women who were driven onto the streets by their addictions. Mr Tobin said the work carried out by the Ipswich Prostitution Strategy is “vitally important”.

“It is very disappointing to hear of more funding cuts,” he said. “A lot of good work has happened over the last four years. If the cuts do happen and Iceni survives we would do all we could to help offer the service to ensure the work continues.”

Iceni is fighting to stay open after funding cuts mean they are facing the threat of closure at the end of March.

The Star has launched the Save Iceni, Save Lives campaign in support of the life-saving charity to ensure people battling addictions in do not lose their beacon of hope.