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Fears over extremism role

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Government proposals to place councils at the forefront of tackling terrorism could jeopardise their relationships with Muslim communities, cohesion specialists have warned.

Many councils are refusing to adopt a target to ‘build resilience to violent extremism’ for fear of hitting work to build a shared local identity.

This is despite the Department for Communities & Local Government being accused of pressurising councils with large Muslim populations to adopt the indicator as one of the 35 specially tailored targets chosen in their local area agreement.
One cohesion specialist predicted that of up to 70 councils identified as having populations susceptible to extremism,
fewer than 20 would adopt it. All councils will monitor performance on tackling extremism, but only those adopting the indicator will see it used to assess overall performance.

The indicator is seen as a central plank of ensuring councils spend wisely the£45m allocated by ministers for engagement with Muslims.

Margaret Eaton, the Local Government Association’s Conservative group leader and ex-Bradford City MBC leader, said that it could lead to the stigmatising of young Muslims as “villains or terrorists”.

“We all know there are Muslim extremists, but you don’t want to identify a whole community because of bad apples in it,” she said. “In some instances [councils] are being put under pressure to choose this as an indicator.”

Mehboob Khan, Labour group leader at Kirklees MBC, said of the indicator: “It will create an atmosphere of mistrust it sends the impression to the rest of the community that somehow the Muslim community is responsible for creating terrorists and extremism.”

The LGA is in talks with DCLG and Home Office officials over a possible compromise. Helen Murray, LGA programme director for safer communities, said: “Standing up publicly and saying that you have a problem with [extremism] is not helpful in terms of community cohesion in some areas.”

A Waltham Forest LBC report recommends the council ignores the indicator “to ensure violent extremism is not viewed externally as a key feature of the borough’s ‘narrative’”. Tower Hamlets LBC’s local strategic partnership has raised concern about “the message [the indicator] may send to the community”.

Nick Johnson, director of policy at the Institute of Community Cohesion, agreed councils felt under pressure to sign up to the indicator, especially if they wanted to access engagement cash.

A DCLG spokeswoman said: “This is not about targeting a community it is about working with a particular community to support them and enable them to build their own resilience, as we recognise that Muslim communities are those most at risk from violent extremism.”

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