Take-aways, off-licences and b&bs are among the businesses being targeted as part of a crackdown on child exploitation in Blackpool.
A £40,000 pilot scheme has seen a specialist team set up to protect children, including those missing from home, who are vulnerable due to being out on the streets at night and weekends.
Powers have been used including closure orders on two brothels and a crack house, while there have been 87 visits to premises where children were believed to be at risk, with local authority powers of entry used to gain access to some properties.
The three month pilot was set up in May with funding expected to be secured in order to continue with it.
The project is aimed at tackling child exploitation
Jeanette Richards, assistant director of children’s services at Blackpool Council, told councillors the authority was taking a “zero tolerance” stance on the criminal and sexual exploitation of children.
She said: “The nature of that coercive relationship is often hidden from the public eye.
“This is why we have to get out into the community to keep an eye on areas of concern and identify hotspots.”
In a presentation to the tourism, economy and communities scrutiny committee, Ms Richards said a town-wide approach had been taken involving workers from the council, police and health services who shared intelligence from the community on a daily basis.
The additional funding had helped to pay for out-of-hours patrols to target the times when vulnerable children were most at risk.
She added: “We have visited parks, piers, take-aways and home addresses and the focus and source of intelligence for these visits is numerous.”
Ms Richards warned the process needed to be relentless because “If we disrupt activity at one take-away, we might see it at another.
“So it is about constant surveillance and taking a zero tolerance approach.”
Action has included the serving of closure notices, civil injunctions, use of licensing powers and 19 community protection warnings.
A council report says: “In terms of problem places, outreach targeted the night time economy, hotels, bed and breakfasts, airbnbs, ‘party’ houses, taxi firms, off licences and take-away shops in which young people are vulnerable to exploitation.
“Creating a visible presence, raising awareness and forming relationships with staff, proprietors and young people.
“These businesses can be the eyes and ears in deprived neighbourhoods and are ideally located to potentially identify concerns regarding child exploitation.”
The report adds “activity has increased around a number of takeaways following intel of young girls potentially being groomed” while “one food establishment was reportedly employing young girls who were sexually harassed by the manager and his friends. ”
Queen Street, which is a focus for Blackpool’s night scene, has also “seen an increase in young people frequenting the area” while other areas of concern are “drug dealing at some hotels; drug criminality and underage young people purchasing rooms.”