Headlines: August 13th, 2009

The Government’s flagship scheme on tackling extremism is alienating Muslim communities and should be scrapped according to a new report. The New Local Government Network thinktank is calling for the £45million scheme to focus on tackling all extremism, including far-right extremists, rather than just
focusing on Islamic extremism.

Preventing Violent Extremism or ‘Prevent’ is one of the four key pillars of the Government’s CONTEST plan, the UK’s international counterterrorism strategy developed in response to the 7 July 2005 terror attacks on London, and revised in March this year with increased funding.

The purpose of ‘Prevent’ is to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism. It began with a £6 million Pathfinder Fund in October 2006, to support priority local authorities in developing programmes of activity to tackle violent extremism at the local level. It was welcomed by the local government community at the time, as recognition by central government of the importance of a community-based response to violent extremism and an understanding that an isolated security stance was insufficient.

There are many good examples of innovative and worthwhile projects being funded under ‘Prevent’, but there are perceptions that it unfairly stigmatises the Muslim community. The report calls for the Government to allocate resources to tackle all extremist ideologies, arguing that the recent increase in far-right extremism is as much of as a challenge for local councils as Islamic extremism. In July this year Scotland Yard warned that far-right extremists are planning a ‘spectacular’ terrorist attack in Britain to try to stoke racial tensions and that more resources need to be targeted to tackle this form of extremism.

The report also calls for local government representation on the Joint Intelligence Committee to allow an expert on ‘home-grown’ terrorism to present the local view. It suggests that the Communities and Local Government department should have a permanent seat on the Committee alongside other government departments and that experienced local authority Chief Executives should be consulted when assessing potential security risks.