We must act to tackle FGM and modern slavery


Lib Dems on B&NES Council have spoken out against female genital mutilation (FGM) and modern slavery.

Two motions were brought to the September meeting of B&NES Council, committing B&NES to working towards the eradication of human trafficking and slavery, and to raising awareness of and supporting action against FGM.

Lisa_Brett_(small_photo).jpgCouncillor Lisa Brett (pictured), who seconded both motions, said:

“These are not easy subjects to talk about but it is vital that we confront FGM and modern slavery and take the appropriate action. I am calling for the Council to ensure that the proper resources are allocated to support work in these areas.”

“Many people will not be aware of the scale of FGM in this country. As many as 60,000 women and girls in the UK could be at risk of FGM, and over 125,000 may already be living with the consequences of this abusive practice, according to latest estimates. Councils have not only a legal responsibility but also a moral duty to work to raise awareness and safeguard girls at risk of harm.”

“As many as 4,500 people are estimated to be being kept in conditions of slavery in the UK alongside thousands more who are victims of forced labour. These people may be trafficked into this country, but they may also be British nationals. It’s important that the Council speaks out against modern slavery and trafficking.”

“I was very pleased to support both these motions.”

Councillor Brett is the Liberal Democrat Lead member for Safer Communities in the Local Government Association (LGA). She is also the LGA spokesperson on FGM and Chair of the National FGM Centre Advisory Board. You can read her speeches to Council below:

Speech by Councillor Lisa Brett, seconding the motion: “Protecting women and girls in Bath and North East Somerset from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)”:

Female Genital Mutilation isn't always the easiest subject to talk about, particularly for members without any previous experience of this practice. Nonetheless, local authorities have a crucial role in protecting women and girls from FGM, and therefore, before seconding this motion I would like to encourage all members here tonight to get hold of a copy of the Local Government Association's publication “A Councillor’s guide to tackling FGM”. This guide hopefully helps to demystify the issue and support Councillors in scrutinising services around FGM. As an added bonus you'll also get a little photo of me inside.

Councils have a crucial role in tackling FGM because it’s our statutory, as well as moral, responsibility to safeguard girls at risk of harm. You have heard it before, but it is worth repeating, FGM is child abuse. We also have a crucial role because ultimately FGM will only end when communities stop practising it. The links we have as a Council into our communities means we are well placed to help and support people make the cultural shift away from the practice.

B&NES Council faces a particular challenge in building up the knowledge and expertise needed to effectively tackle FGM because it is, thankfully, a low prevalence area. It does happen here, not on the scale of neighbouring Bristol, nonetheless we do have cases, and referrals are only going to increase with mandatory reporting; this is where partnership working comes into its own.

Two years ago the Local Government Association, of which we are part, saw an opportunity to ensure women and girls are better protected from FGM because councils and their staff are better supported in their work on FGM. By becoming partners with Barnardo’s, the LGA were able to set up The National FGM Centre to provide information, advice, best practice, risk assessment tools, and even full case management to Local Authorities. I do have to declare an interest here – I chair the National FGM Centre advisory board – however, the point is that no Local Authority area is alone in tackling this issue. Experience and expertise is readily available.

Therefore, confident in our ability to resource the appropriate local response to FGM, I am very pleased to second this motion.

Speech by Councillor Lisa Brett, seconding the motion on “Modern Slavery”:

The Global Slavery Index estimates that there are around 4,500 people kept in conditions of slavery in the UK. Thousands more in the UK are experiencing forced labour.

Modern slavery is complex. Coercion, deception, blackmail and violence used to control victims. Organised crime groups force can people to work long hours for little or no money, force them to commit crime or into the sex industry. And not all the victims are people from outside the UK.

Of the 15 people who accepted help when Bedfordshire Police raided a Leighton Buzzard caravan site in 2011 eight were British, three Polish, one Latvian, one Lithuanian and two were of unconfirmed nationality.

Local authorities are required by law to notify the National Crime Agency if they have reasonable grounds to suspect trafficking and, as a Council, we are provided with information on the level of threat in our area by the police. The motion before Council tonight underpins our statutory duties, publicly acknowledging that our council has an important role to play in addressing modern slavery and trafficking.

Council staff working in a range of frontline services may well interact with victims and, appropriately trained, are well placed to spot the signs of modern slavery. Our staff are also likely to receive intelligence that helps identify victims and have safeguarding responsibilities towards the victims when they are identified. Importantly, Local authorities can assist in disrupting the activities of those holding people in servitude or trafficking through the licensing or inspection powers they hold.

As the LGA champion for tackling abuse and exploitation, I am both proud and relieved to be part of a Council that takes its responsibilities towards modern slavery seriously. I trust that resources will follow this motion to ensure our staff are appropriately trained to effectively tackle this horrendous practice.

In anticipation of actions that support this motion, I ask you to support the motion and second it.


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