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In the aftermath of the Manchester bombing, much attention has focused on the more visible public servants called in to take action, such as medical staff, the police, and today, as the UK terror threat was raised to ‘critical’, the army.
Many more public servants will be drafted in to deal with the impact of the attack. As Westminster City Council leader Nickie Aiken (Con) explained to LGC, drawing on her experience of the attack on the Houses of Parliament two months ago, council staff will tackle a range of practical tasks from ensuring roads remain clear, to social workers liaising with schools, and scrubbing the streets clean.
But no council seeks to have to deal with the impact of terrorism. Much work goes on to ensure it never occurs in the first place through support and interaction with individuals and groups believed to be susceptible to extremist propaganda. However, the Prevent strategy has been perceived as targeting Muslims and remains controversial. The strategy has been rigorously defended by Dame Louise Casey in her review of integration for the government.
Tensions rose in the aftermath of last year’s vote in favour of Brexit, which saw a spike in racist incidents and growing perceptions of the country being divided, including along geographical, class and racial lines. It was around this time that Brent LBC chief executive Carolyn Downs wrote for LGC on her borough’s work with community leaders, faith groups and residents to tackle hate crime, extremism and radicalisation among other social ills, which she said became particularly relevant as the UK saw a spike in post-Brexit hate crime.
Building community cohesion takes time, patience and the stomach for difficult discussions, according to Ted Cantle, founder of the iCoCo Foundation. Mr Cantle, the author of a seminal report for the government on the 2001 Oldham riots, wrote in July last year that to prevent hate crime and extremism, local public institutions such as councils, the police and the voluntary sector must work together to monitor tensions within communities to facilitate early intervention. They must also allow communities to debate difficult issues, and not prevent this in case it gives “a small minority of racists” a voice; Mr Cantle believes sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Aside from this, another crucial element in preventing radicalisation and extremism is to ensure young people have the critical thinking skills to challenge extremist ideas when they hear them, and to promote contact and understanding between different segments of a community, Mr Cantle wrote in a separate column.
Robin Tuddenham, director of communities at Calderdale MBC and soon to be the council’s chief executive, has written for LGC on what this means for a council on a practical level. Mr Tuddenham said for Calderdale, reducing the risk of young people being radicalised involved developing a risk assessment of radicalisation that represented the voices of local people; developing a plan with local schools of how to encourage healthy debate and better contact between different cultures; and working with communities to foster greater resilience against extremism.
After a terror attack, much public discourse tends towards the reductive; there are often panicky calls to fix the problem with, say, tougher security and restricted civil liberties. But, as the LSE’s Tony Travers highlighted after the 7/7 bombings in 2005, it will be the subtler work of councils, with their deep knowledge of communities and local touch-points, that makes all the difference.