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Ministerial timidity on cohesion will see divisions grow

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Commentary on the need to respond to Dame Louise Casey’s cohesion review

Decisions to build new airport runways or nuclear power stations are the most notorious examples of governments ‘putting off the tough stuff’. However, community cohesion is another area ministers are often happy to see remain in the long grass because its emergence will generally anger more people than it pleases.

As Dame Louise Casey, whose government-commissioned review of opportunity was published in December 2016, notes in her LGC interview, insufficient attention has been paid to improving the life chances of the people who are most excluded from British society, and too few resources as well. This has led to a widening of the gulfs in the wealth, opportunity and prominence enjoyed by people of different groups, depending on their sex, age, ethnic heritage or religion.

The difficulty is that before you can act to heal these divisions you need to confront some difficult questions about who are the most marginalised groups and why this is so. Dame Louise, the former civil servant, deserves credit for producing a characteristically plain-speaking review that confronts many difficult questions.

These include the status of women in certain groups, whether self-declared community leaders are genuinely representative, and the impact of government policies on the segregation of education. However, the government has so far failed to act on Dame Louise’s work, whose publication was initially delayed after David Cameron, who commissioned the review, was replaced by Theresa May. Then the ministerial response to the review was held back, with no answer to Dame Louise’s recommendations, 13 months after they were published.

Failure to confront cohesion issues sits in contrast with the ministerial recognition of the pressing need to act against the radicalisation of people who could be susceptible of becoming involved in terrorism. As a result, the Prevent programme, mainly targeted at those vulnerable to Muslim or far-right extremism, has received significant funding and prominence.

Prevent has long been controversial, with Muslims in particular saying they are singled out. However, it is vital that public services work proactively to steer people away from radicalisation, and target those potentially most susceptible to it. The error has been that too little has been done to target the root causes of radicalisation, which are inequality, isolation and unfairness. Funding for Prevent has not been matched by adequate funding for English language and action to discredit Isis has not been mirrored by support for underrepresented groups to play a greater role in British public life. This must change.

In addition to our interview with Dame Louise, LGC also carries an article by Judith Blake (Lab), chair of Core Cities and leader of Leeds City Council, analysing the cohesion of cities and calling for greater freedoms for local leaders to tackle deprivation and proactively deal with population changes. And, we also have a piece by Qari Asim, who as well as being a property lawyer with DLA Piper is head imam at Leeds’s Makkah Mosque. He discusses the practical ways in which regeneration can facilitate cohesion.

Modern Britain is a pleasingly cosmopolitan place, enriched by the contrasting cultural heritages of inhabitants whose families came from so many different corners of the world. Migration brings richness and strength; inevitably it can cause some problems, which need to be addressed by leaders both national and local.

Nick Golding, LGC editor

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