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Retrieving the Casey review from the long grass

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LGC’s essential daily briefing.

In little more than two months there have been three terror attacks on British soil by five attackers resulting in the deaths of 34 victims.

First came the attack in Westminster and second the Manchester bombing. Then London Bridge and nearby Borough Market became the latest locations of more horrifying scenes at the weekend.

From inconsolable grief to steely defiance; almost-uncontrollable anger to an outpouring of love – communities across the country are on an emotional rollercoaster.

Many of the more positive feelings and sentiments were proudly on show during the One Love Manchester benefit concert last night.

But attention will soon turn to what more can be done to prevent terror attacks from becoming a regular recurrence in this country.

Theresa May has already spoken of a need to review Britain’s counterterrorism strategy, depriving extremists of “safe spaces” both online and in their communities, and called on the public sector to become “far more robust” in tackling extremism.

While the Prevent strategy, which has since 2005 guided the government’s efforts to prevent radicalisation and seen councils play a central role in its delivery, has been panned by plenty, there are still many who see merit in it.

Speaking to LGC last month, Westminster City Council’s leader Nickie Aiken (Con) outlined the “vital role” local authorities have, not only in dealing with the immediate aftermath of a terror attack but tackling community cohesion issues in the long term.

But on the steps of 10 Downing Street yesterday, Ms May warned tackling extremism from now on would “require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations”.

Those words are reminiscent of those of Dame Louise Casey who, in her speech to the Local Government Association annual conference last July, ahead of the publication of her review into integration, urged public servants to “be a lot braver, to talk about the really hard stuff” and criticised political correctness.

The review, commissioned by Ms May’s predecessor David Cameron, caused controversy when it was (finally) published in December. Dame Louise found there were “worrying” levels of segregation in some parts of the country and accused councils and other public bodies of perpetuating community division in a “misguided but well-meaning” bid to respect cultural differences.

However, Dame Louise was criticised for a perceived focus on Muslim communities that ignored wider social problems. When she appeared before MPs in January, Dame Louise responded to those criticisms by saying it was important to “hold a mirror up and say ‘Like it or not, this is what we found’”.

Communities secretary Sajid Javid said in December he would discuss the report’s findings “with colleagues across government” before outlining “our plans for tackling these issues” in the spring. It was hardly seen as a speedy response to such an important and eagerly anticipated report, especially one which had been kicking around Whitehall for months on end waiting to be aired in public. (An LGC briefing ahead of the review’s publication touched on reports of bids by government officials to censor or silence the review - more on this later.)

Since then Dame Louise has announced she will leave the civil service later this year, while the small matter of a snap general election has (conveniently) got in the way of the government publishing its response to the review.

But after two terror attacks in two weeks Ms May has decided “enough is enough”. This is surely the sound of her hastily retrieving Dame Louise’s integration review from the long grass. Having been home secretary for six years before entering No 10, one might well question why Ms May ever allowed the Casey review to get kicked into the long grass in the first place. 

The Sun claimed in October Home Office officials were “attempting to censor Dame Louise Casey’s review which highlights damning failures”, some of which related to Ms May’s time in charge of that department. So much for having those difficult and embarrassing conversations… 

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