As a chief executive of a densely-populated London borough, it is always in the back of my mind that there might be another terrorist attack, particularly following the terrible incidents of 2017.
Each one of these reminds us of the devastating impact terrorism can have on our communities and how susceptible vulnerable people are to being indoctrinated with extremist ideologies.
While we all rely on the fantastic work of the police and intelligence services to thwart such attacks, there is a vital role for councils to play in promoting community cohesion and stopping our residents from becoming perpetrators in the first place. I believe it is our duty to safeguard vulnerable residents from being preyed on and indoctrinated, just as we safeguard victims of domestic violence or child abuse.
This is where Prevent comes in and why Waltham Forest and our neighbouring East London boroughs are working together to improve our ability to safeguard those residents in danger of adopting extremist views.
We know potential terrorists do not respect borough borders; they live, move and operate across our footprint. The London Bridge attackers lived and associated across East London and many other counter-terrorism operations and investigations span several authority areas. With the new threat posed by those returning from fighting in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, the challenge is only increasing in size and complexity.
Across the UK, work to prevent terrorism is led independently by local partnerships within borough boundaries. In East London, Barking & Dagenham, Hackney, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest LBCs have joined forces to amplify and strengthen existing borough-based work. Our new approach will add to and complement the support we already provide by harnessing the benefits of broader-scale intervention. By bringing together seven boroughs we can better harness the expertise of our staff as well as bring together partnerships that frequently don’t fit the boundaries of a single local authority. We also cover a substantial part of London with a total population of just under two million people.
This collaboration has devised a pilot programme in partnership with the Home Office to improve sharing of intelligence, resources and best practice between the seven boroughs. Our programme includes commitments from the boroughs to work more closely together and to test new ways of working, as well as a request for additional resources to support our delivery from central government. We know from previous terrorist investigations that agencies have a better chance of preventing extremism if they work together to share information that they collectively hold, be it from partners in the police, education, health or elsewhere.
I can see this approach being a model for others across the country in the future and I am thankful for the support and urgency shown, not only by the other London boroughs but other partners as well. The challenge ahead of us all is substantial and continually evolving, but together we have a much better chance of preventing our residents from being drawn into terrorism.
Martin Esom, chief executive, Waltham Forest LBC; chair, London Prevent Board