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:

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

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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