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What safeguards do Councils have to avoid funding extremist Muslim groups?

The Policy Exchange think tank latest report Choosing Our Friends Wisely: Criteria for engagement with Muslim groups, has huge relevance for local councils. Is money provided by the Government's Preventing Violent Extremism programme, at least £90 million over three years, going to the right people? The report concludes it is often making matters worse. A new generation is being radicalised with the very fnds that were supposed to be countering radicalisation.

The report includes an example from Birmingham Council which actually seems to have been commended by the Audit Commission where staff in 72 madrassahs have been trained in ‘teaching and delivering the Islamic syllabus’ as part of promotion of Islamic citizenship. The Policy Exchange report queries the vagueness about the project (What was he content? Who did the training? etc) and adds: "Above all, specifically why is it the duty of local authorities to promote ‘Islamic citizenship’? Why is it not explicitly the duty of councils to promote Britishness, and even loyalty to the Crown?"

The report doesn't think the Local Government Association are much help:

"It is not always Whitehall that exhibits this noticeable lack of clarity. A glossy document produced by the Local Government Association (LGA), entitled Leading the preventing extremism agenda: a role made for councillors, points to the key role that can be played by local councillors in forging ‘strong links between local authorities and community groups’.

But there is little explanation of what is meant by the phrase ‘community groups’. Instead, reference is made to ‘local partners’ and ‘key community organisations’ without any serious description of what
these mean.

A similar pattern emerges across several LGA publications. As with the HMIC-Audit Commission report, councils are told by the LGA that they should ‘avoid the inadvertent engagement with or support provided to inappropriate organisations’. The LGA also states that if a mistake is made, then ‘it is important that local authorities are able to take prompt action to withdraw funding or terminate funding agreements,’ yet there is no description of how this termination process might occur. Similarly, there is no direction on what an organisation must do to be disqualified from this funding: what makes a group ‘inappropriate’?

One of the most extraordinary aspects of the various LGA documents is the advice they give on how to select such ‘community groups’. The reader is directed to the main Prevent criteria and to an accompanying leaflet, Leading the preventing violent extremism agenda: engaging supporting and funding community groups.  The latter states that, when considering requests for funding, in the first instance ‘local authorities should consult their police partners and trusted community partners on the suitability of groups or individuals tendering to receive Prevent funding or support.’ But who are these ‘trusted community partners’? By what process, and against what measure, were they elevated to this position?

Paradoxically, it seems as though the literature is suggesting that local authorities should ask ‘trusted community partners’ to advise them on who their ‘trusted community partners’ should be!"

The report includes plenty of examples of the police and local councils handing control over the to the very same extremist groups who influence they should be seeking to counter:

 The City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council granting a significant share of PVE-PF monies to a project that was organised in partnership with the Islamic Society of Britain. Authorities in Lambeth engaging in Prevent activity in partnership with a hard-line Salafist from Brixton Mosque in the belief that this constituted the best antidote to violent extremism. Redbridge Council working with a former press officer from the Islamist-influenced MCB as consultant PVE Project Manager.

This is controversial territory and the former Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly is to be commended for writing a foreward to the report. She writes that the guidelines will "need to evolve over time." She writes that:

As a society we already drew a clear line between people promoting violence, planning or implementing violent attacks and the decent law-abiding majority. the insight of writers from Policy Exchange was that government - at all levels - and society have a broader role: that the dealings government has with both individuals and groups can act to 'legitimise' or 'delegitimise' those individuals or groups.

She adds that we need to " 'rebalance' our relationships with Muslim communities significantly towards those organisations that were taking a proactive leadership role in tackling extremism and defending our shared values. It was only by defending our values - upheld staunchly by the vast majority of moderate Muslims - that we would prevent extremists radicalising future generations of terrorists."

The report makes detailed proposals for getting some proper rigour into what is happening to all this money. There is clearly an alarming lack of rigour at present.


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