Prevent has become a ‘toxic’ brand and needs repackaging, councillor says during a discussion on how to promote integration.
The leader of Luton council Hazel Simmons told a workshop at the Local Government Association (LGA) conference that Prevent - a part of the Government’s counter-extremism strategy - needed to be repackaged.
The councillor stressed the programme’s aim to prevent people from being radicalised by extremists from across the ideological spectrum was important - but warned for many it had become a ‘toxic’ brand.
Cllr Simmons’ point was supported by a Muslim woman in the audience who said Prevent had ‘lost confidence from the beginning’ in her community.
The comments were made as part of a workshop called ‘Building cohesive communities – councils’ leadership role’ and chaired by Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA stronger and safer communities.
One of the other speakers, the former chief executive of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, Nazir Afzal, also emphasised that it was crucial to ensure Prevent was about safeguarding and not about counter-terrorism.
Mr Afzal, who talked about challenging the ‘myths’ that he claimed Prevent’s critics were spreading, said the programme was about safeguarding people from extremist ideologies in the same way the authorities safeguard against other threats.
On the issue of how councils can communicate better with their communities, Mr Afzal warned that a lack of diversity in positions of authority was a problem. He said communities wouldn't ‘give a toss’ what councillors have to say unless residents feel properly represented.
Chris Naylor, the chief executive of Barking & Dagenham, the home of one of the terrorists responsible for the London Bridge attack, spoke at length about the challenges his borough has faced with community cohesion.
An area that has seen a large influx of immigrants in recent years, as well as the election of 12 BNP members 10 years ago, the borough has faced many challenges with managing inter-communal relations.
He warned there was a ‘profound sense of disconnection from the council’ in the borough, particularly from members of the white working class who see themselves as the ‘indigenous community.’
Mr Naylor urged local authorities to design all services with the express aim of tackling this sense of alienation and reconnecting residents with their council.
Provocatively, Mr Naylor also showed a montage of all those arrested in connection to terrorism offences in recent years, many of whom were of Asian heritage.
He noted that all of them — from Islamist extremists to white supremacists — were men whose biographies often revealed a ‘toxic, perverted sense of masculinity.’
Women, as victims of domestic abuse or FGM, were often the first victims of these terrorists, he said.
On the question of immigration, one questioner pointed out that the existence of special schemes, such as the Syrian Resettlement Programme, had created a ‘two-tiered’ immigration system where those who came in under a particular scheme were given access to advantages not available to those who entered the country through the standard route.
Cllr Blackburn noted the Syrian Resettlement Programme was a success because it was done in conjunction with the LGA.