A £60,000 fund boosted by money confiscated from criminals has been launched to help tackle the growing menace of youngsters being groomed and exploited by vicious drugs gangs.

According to North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones, the ill-gotten gains of villains will be recycled for the benefit of the community in a series of crime-fighting initiatives across the region.

The Your Community, Your Choice Awards are again putting up the Community Fund for local groups and Mr Jones is urging local groups to bid for the cash.

It’s being organised jointly by Mr Jones, North Wales Police and the North Wales Police and Community Trust (PACT).

The money for the awards comes partly from money seized by the courts through the Proceeds of Crime Act with the rest from the Police Commissioner’s Fund.

Each of the region’s six counties will have up to £2,500 apiece for two groups with £5,000 each for two organisations that operate in three or more counties.

In addition this year, thanks to additional funding from the police and crime commissioner and North Wales Police, there will be two new grants of £10,000.

The larger grants are designed to fund projects addressing issues related to the emerging threat of County Lines, where young people are being coerced and threatened with violence to take part in illegal activity across the region.

The deadline for applications is January 18 and the successful groups will be chosen by public vote.

Entry forms are available on the North Wales Police website with a link to it on the Police Commissioner’s website.

A shortlist of applicants will be chosen by a special panel and voting opens on February 4 and runs until March 1 with that vote deciding the winners.

Mr Jones, a former police inspector, said: “I decided to give more money this year because of the growing threat of the County Lines phenomenon which involves the criminal exploitation of children and young people.

“These drugs supply networks are often run by criminals from out of the area via a mobile phone line who use associates or even coerce vulnerable people to act as local dealers to deal drugs for them.

“Violence and intimidation is a common theme in these abhorrent networks which have become known County Lines.

“There is a great deal that third sector organisations and community organisations can do, especially in terms of raising awareness amongst the potential victims themselves.

“It is vitally important that warn youngsters of the very real dangers of being ensnared by these vicious gangs.

“County lines is a growing scourge, not just here but also across the UK, it getting to grips with it is a major priority in my Police and Crime Plan.”

His message was backed by Assistant Chief Constable Neill Anderson who said: “The Your Community Your Choice fund hits at the very heart of what we’re trying to achieve.

“There are so many worthy community groups out there, and this initiative is about the police and the community working together to actually make things safer for the public of North Wales, with the added benefit of course is that some of the monies comes from criminals.

“All of this chimes  perfectly with the commissioner’s Police and rime plan and the force’s objectives.

“Whilst there is lots of enforcement activity on going with County Lines, and we’ve been very successful in that regard, this is about prevention.

“There are groups out there that I think could help young people to stay on the right path and not get pulled into any of these County Lines drugs supply networks.

“Once they’re sucked in, they’re exploited and their lives are made hell. The impact on them is just terrible and there are links here to modern day slavery.”

PACT project manager Dave Evans said: “Every applicant must look at the commissioner’s Police and Crime Plan and consider how their proposal can support one or more of the five priorities that are contained in the introduction within that plan.

“They also need to talk to their local Safer Neighbourhood Policing Team through their PCSO or directly through their local inspector who will need to endorse and support their application before it comes to the Police and Crime Commissioner’s panel.

“This is a win-win for society because it’s bad money being turned into good. This is now the sixth year that we’ve been running this fund and every year the quality of applications is getting better and better and the impact that money is having in the communities is absolutely fantastic. We’ve seen first-hand the benefits that the communities are seeing from this money both on a community basis and in an individual basis.

“The people of North Wales have a say in all of this. They are the ones who decide who is going to be successful in each category. The more votes that you can secure through your network of supporters as an applicant the better. It’s all down to the applicants to make sure that they encourage their supporters to vote for their particular project.”

Completed applications must be returned by e-mail to yourcommunityyourchoice@nthwales.pnn.police.uk by 5pm on the closing date of January 18. For more information go to www.northwales-pcc.gov.uk or www.north-wales.police.uk