The government is to review whether it has sufficient intervention powers against councils it thinks have failed to tackle extremism, as part of the Home Office’s new Counter Extremism Strategy.
Published this morning, the strategy also places a new duty on police and councils to investigate complaints about extremist behaviour and promises a review of entryism into public bodies by extreme groups .
Prime minister David Cameron said the strategy was designed to counter “sickening displays of neo-Nazism, Islamophobia, antisemitism and, of course, Islamist extremism.
“The fight against Islamist extremism is, I believe, one of the great struggles of our generation,” he said.
Councils are recognised in the strategy as having an important role in combatting extremism, though it cites both the Birmingham Trojan Horse controversy and the child sex exploitation cases in Rotherham as examples of them failing in their duties.
“Local authorities have a powerful role to play in combating extremism. Yet in different ways some local authorities have failed to confront extremism as fully as they should have done”, the strategy said.
“We will ensure local authorities have clear guidance on the full range of tools available to them to tackle extremism. We will also review the powers available to enable government to intervene where councils fail.”
A new ‘extremism community trigger will put a legal duty on police and councils to “fully review any complaints about extremism”.
Next year a review will examine entryism across the public sector including schools, further and higher education colleges, councils, the NHS and the civil service and how to combat it by improving governance, inspection and whistle-blowing mechanisms.
The strategy defined entryism as “when extremist individuals, groups and organisations consciously seek to gain positions of influence to better enable them to promote their own extremist agendas”.
It said the strategy would inform funding decisions for “a major new Cohesive Communities Programme” of unspecified size next year which would provide central funding for relevant local interventions.
Ted Cantle, founder of the Institute of Community Cohesion and a former Nottingham City Council chief executive, said the strategy was “a missed opportunity” as it concentrated on restrictions rather than positive action.
He told LGC: “All the measures are about restrictions rather than intervening positively.
“If someone is on the verge of violence or inciting hate crime then you have to intervene but there does not seem to be anything here to engage communities and get them onside.
“I don’t think there is any minister who thinks what they are doing is working well, this is just driven by the need to be seen to be doing something.”
Mr Cameron said the strategy had four parts: to counter extremist ideology; support mainstream voices, especially in faith communities and civil society; disrupt extremists by aggressively pursuing key radicalisers; seek to build more cohesive communities by tackling segregation and feelings of alienation.
“In the past, I believe governments made the wrong choice,” he said. “Whether in the face of Islamist or neo-Nazi extremism, we were too tolerant of intolerance, too afraid to cause offence.
“We seemed to lack the strength and resolve to stand up for what is right, even when the damage being done by extremists was all too clear.”
He said the government would tackle both violent and non-violent extremism as “we know that terrorism is really a symptom; ideology is the root cause”.