At the beginning of August local and national media reported on the case of Lithuanian workers who had been held in Maidstone houses and forced to work in a chicken farm just a few miles away. Unfortunately there may be many similar cases here in Maidstone and in other parts of the county.
The 2015 Modern Slavery Act sets out the responsibilities of county councils, district councils and other agencies to identify and support the victims of slavery and human trafficking. Is the Leader satisfied that the current arrangements in Kent are adequate and, if not, what steps are being taken to address the situation?
Modern slavery has emerged as a serious and pressing issue which affects all sectors - public, private and voluntary - across the whole of the UK. Indeed, as a 'gateway authority' the risks for Kent are heightened. However, in order to find ways to effectively tackle this issue we cannot work in isolation. Agencies need to work together to share information, intelligence and to forge collaborative relationships in order to recognise the signs of modern slavery, as well as to protect the victims of this abuse and to prevent it from continuing to occur in the future.
To this end, Kent County Council is in discussions with colleagues from Kent Police, the NHS, Fire and Rescue, alongside district authorities as well as voluntary and community organisations, to determine how we can best respond to, and collaborate in, the fight against modern slavery, trafficking and exploitation. A Kent Anti-Slavery Partnership Group has recently been set up to facilitate the discovery of - and to formulate responses to - incidents of modern slavery, and KCC is represented at these meetings. Kent is also working with the Essex Anti-Slavery Partnership Group in order to find how we can best respond to this challenge across the south east region.
Our service managers and staff, the Kent Safeguarding Children Board, as well as Members who attend Informal Member Groups (such as the Children's Services Improvement Panel) are familiar with the responsibilities the Modern Slavery Act has levied upon us as a local authority. Indeed, the Act requirements now inform our social care staff's everyday working practice and multi-agency training is being rolled out to ensure that all frontline workers are aware of this issue and what they need to do to respond to it at an individual level. In some instances our organisation has been ahead of the curve in this regard, having already volunteered to be part of a Government child advocacy pilot before the Modern Slavery Act, which seeks to make child advocacy compulsory, was granted Royal Assent. A significant amount of the detail underpinning the Act is still in the process of being set out in secondary legislation and guidance, and our Officers will keep us notified as things progress in this regard. Given this, I am satisfied that the arrangements in Kent between KCC working with other statutory partners are adequate, but we remain vigilant and will review and improve arrangements wherever and whenever required.