Gun crime in Birmingham is to be targeted as part of a £1 million Government crackdown in English cities which have suffered most from gangs.

Inner city areas of Birmingham will see a range of measures, including undercover operations and surveillance against gang members, heightened police visibility and the provision of safe houses for witnesses and victims.

Neighbourhoods in London, Greater Manchester and Liverpool are also included in the wide-ranging scheme.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith yesterday said communities affected by gun gangs would "absolutely" notice a difference in their neighbourhoods over the autumn as a result of the launch of the Tackling Gangs Action Programme.

The programme, launched in the wake of the shooting of 11-year-old Rhys Jones in Liverpool, will be led by Merseyside Police Deputy Chief Constable Jon Murphy and overseen by a Ministerial Taskforce on guns and gangs, chaired by the Home Secretary.

Ms Smith (Redditch) made clear she was ready to consider proposals from the Association of Chief Police Officers for potential witnesses to be offered anonymity from an early stage in the investigation of a shooting.

The proposals were made at a conference in Birmingham last week following a rash of high-profile gun killings over the course of this year.

However, Ms Smith insisted the actual rate of homicides involving firearms was no higher now than a decade ago.

But she acknowledged the increasing prevalence of gangs, and the involvement of ever-younger people in gun crime, was a serious concern.

Ms Smith said: "The Government takes gun crime very seriously but we must remember that the gun crime problem is concentrated in a few local areas and they are the ones on which we must focus our efforts. Some cities have seen great reductions in gun crime and we can learn lessons which we will replicate elsewhere.

"I am clear that we must get guns off our streets and tackle the serious gangs who are creating the most problems."

Neighbourhoods in Birmingham, along with Manchester and London, which have been targeted are among a number of gun crime "hotspots" which account for over half of all firearms offences in England and Wales, said the Home Office.

Each of these neighbourhoods will see a tailored package of enforcement action and community reassurance work, including:

* Covert operations and surveillance against known gang members;

* High visibility police presence, including on routes to and from schools;

* Use of civil orders to restrict gang members;

* Safe houses for victims, witnesses and people trying to leave gangs;

* Mediation services to stop disputes between gang members;

* Greater witness protection - possibly including enhanced anonymity for witnesses;

* Community forums and additional activities and support for young people at schools.

Meanwhile, the work of the Serious Organised Crime Agency and border forces will be stepped up to stop imports of illicit guns.