The police and security services are failing to trust councils with sensitive information which could help prevent people being drawn into terrorism, local authorities have said.
The concerns were expressed ahead of the publication of a new counter-extremism strategy set to be launched by prime minister David Cameron later today.
They come after this year’s Counter Terrorism and Security Act placed a duty on councils to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism” and widespread concern has emerged about the number of radicalised young people heading to Syria to fight for extremist bodies.
Robin Tuddenham, spokesman on Prevent for the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers, said a big challenge following the introduction of the duty was that councils were still “working through with central government and with the police the level of information exchange we need to do that job properly”.
“There’s a real dilemma for central government and security [services] in that they see greater risk, a greater need to work with others, but then a real worry about sharing information,” he said.
Mr Tuddenham, director of communities at Calderdale MBC, said there was a “gap” between the quality of the information in counter-terrorism local profiles produced by police – risk assessments for each area shared with key agencies such as local authorities – and “what security services know and need to share”.
He acknowledged the situation was improving and the Home Office understood councils “need to be able to share the risk… [and] the information”. However, he said those dealing with security issues often did not realise how much local authorities knew about local people. In one instance, a team that briefed some of Calderdale’s social workers about a family went away with more information than they had had on their arrival, he said.
“We hold a lot of information about people – and we will have to use that very carefully – but sometimes we can intervene to try to reduce the risk to the public and to the family of the situation,” said Mr Tuddenham.
LGC spoke to another source with knowledge of local authorities’ work in this area who agreed the police and security services needed to be more willing to trust councils and recognise they may have useful information as a family may be paying council tax, receiving benefits, living in council housing or have children in local schools
One council chief executive in a high risk area told LGC of their frustration at not being able to share what information they were given more widely within the local authority to make these links.
Ted Cantle, founder of the Institute of Community Cohesion, said there was more sharing of information than there had been in the past but that it was “overlaid with the sheer difficulty and weight of expectation”. He added that there was no improvement in the relationship with Muslim communities.
He suggested Prevent needed to go in the “opposite direction” of its current approach and engage with Muslim communities, open up debates and have the “dangerous conversations”. “The only way we can challenge extremist positions and extremist ideology is by giving young people the critical thinking skills to challenge it for themselves so that they know when they are being groomed or being used,” he said.
The Home Office has estimated it could cost a council between £4,000 and £40,000 to implement the new Prevent Duty.
There are about 50 Prevent ‘priority’ areas, identified on the basis of assessments of counter-terrorism threats, which will receive government funding ranging from £120,000 to £600,000 in 2015-16.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “As a country, we must consistently challenge the twisted narrative that has seduced some of our vulnerable young people.
“Everyone has a role to play in preventing terrorism, and the Prevent duty will ensure that this important issue is being tackled by key bodies across the country, working together in partnership. Local authorities have an important role to play in delivering the duty, co-ordinating activity by local partners across all sectors to ensure Prevent is delivered effectively on the ground.”