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Counter-terror programme 'flawed'

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A key strand of the Government’s current counter-extremism programme is dividing communities and should be dropped in favour of further cohesion work, according to a new report.

Focusing resources on potential Islamist threats risks alienating Muslim communities and ignores the threat posed by rightwing extremists, the New Local Government Network (NLGN) said.

In its report Stronger Together: A new approach to preventing violent extremism the thinktank argues that the £45 million “Prevent” programme, which began last year and is due to run until 2011, should be broadened to cover all extremist ideologies, and re-focused on building community cohesion.

Report author Anna Turley said it was too early to assess the success of the Prevent agenda in terms of outcomes, but that there was a danger that its image was already “irretrievably damaged”.

“The lack of support from within the Muslim community, as well as the changing threat of wider extremist voices mean that it is time to review whether the separation of the Preventing Violent Extremism approach from wider community cohesion approaches is still relevant,” she said.

NLGN is also calling for all council chief executives and leaders to be given better access to Special Branch intelligence on local extremism issues when they have Local Area Agreements or funding assigned to dealing with them.

Additionally, it argues that Department for Communities and Local Government officials should have a permanent place on the Government’s Joint Intelligence Committee, with a local government team featuring experienced chief executives.

Cohesion minister Shahid Malik said the report underplayed other work being done to address extremism in all its forms, but insisted Prevent had seen “real successes” that were largely down to the efforts of Muslim communities themselves.

“We acknowledge that the Prevent label can isolate some groups and that is why funding going into communities will no longer be branded in this way from this department,” he said.

“We are already broadening our approach to involve all communities in developing shared values to strengthen cohesion.

“This includes putting a renewed focus on resisting rightwing, racist extremism, based on strengthening communities to help keep everyone safe.”

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