county lines drug problems - pic by Kelvyn Skee, creative commons licence

Councillors have warned that “county lines” drug dealing is beginning to have a serious effect on communities across Cheshire East, writes Stephen Topping.

County lines is the practice of urban drug dealers using children to sell drugs in rural areas, villages and smaller towns.

Members at a Cheshire East Council scrutiny committee were told the local authority has bid for Government funding to help it support vulnerable children across the borough who are at risk of being exploited by dealers.

“We are in a changing world and it isn’t very pleasant,” said Cllr Dorothy Flude, Labour member for Crewe South.

“As such we have the county lines issue – and let’s not pretend it isn’t here because it is.

“It is in small towns and it is beginning to have a serious effect in some small towns.”

Cllr Flude told the children and families overview and scrutiny committee she was aware of a case involving a young person who was exploited through county lines outside of Crewe before they were moved to the town.

And Cllr Liz Durham, Conservative member for Broken Cross and Upton, told members there was a “very serious” case in Macclesfield.

She added: “I was out with the PCSO this morning, going around the same area.

“Seeing the police, seeing people out there will hopefully deter some of it.

“The county lines issue is – to me in a small town like Macclesfield – quite difficult.”

CEC officer Jacquie Sims told the committee the local authority is working on new initiatives to help support vulnerable children who could be exploited for county lines operations.

They include a screening tool for social care professionals to report concerns, a protection plan for children who are at risk of criminal exploitation and closer work with schools.

“We know that the thing that keeps children most safe is for them to be in school full time,” Ms Sims said.

The council’s work could further be supported by funding from the Government’s Troubled Families unit, according to officer Ali Stathers-Tracey, and CEC made a bid for cash before the end of last year.

She said: “In terms of what we know nationally that works around young people who are becoming criminally corrupted, half the battle is knowing who else is involved.

“Often the parents are bewildered, it is beyond them.

“This stuff isn’t short term. It is trusted relationships over time that change young people’s mindsets.”

Ms Stathers-Tracey added the council is working closely with police in an effort to support youngsters who are at risk.

Cheshire Police made more than 20 arrests during a week of action on county lines last October.

(pic by Kelvyn Skee, creative commons licence, for illustration only)

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