Lancashire County Council has received just £10,000 of area-wide funding to help it deliver the government’s anti-terrorism strategy, a committee of councillors has heard.
All local authorities have had a duty to play a role in the Prevent programme since 2015. Their responsibilities include tackling the causes of extremism and supporting residents identified as being at risk of radicalisation.
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The county received an initial £10,000 grant to help it incorporate the strategy in its day-to-day working – most of which was spent on developing specialist websites for schools.
But the authority has since received no funding to deliver its on-going project work, which includes training sessions in the community to spread the Prevent message. County hall also employs a director and lead officer to ensure that it is fulfilling its anti-terrorism duties under government legislation.
“There is never any charge from Lancashire County Council for delivering training,” Pam Smith, Lancashire County Council’s Prevent lead told the authority’s external scrutiny committee.
“Training delivered to [council] services and communities is provided by qualified trainers who go through a process to be recognised,” she added.
But the meeting heard that the overall cost to the authority has never been calculated.
“If the government aren’t paying, then the ratepayers of Lancashire [are] – and it would be interesting to know how much,” committee member Carl Compton said. A final figure has been requested from officers and will be reported back to the committee at a later date.
Councils in Blackburn with Darwen and Burnley have both received additional cash for use in their own areas, because they were identified as priority locations for the Prevent programme. However, Burnley will lose so-called ‘tier 2’ status – and the funding which went with it – next March, as it is no longer considered a sufficiently high-risk area.
Tony Martin, county councillor for Burnley Central West, said the decision meant that the town had become “a victim of its own success”.
“[Councils] got this responsibility landed on them at fairly short notice and there was the threat that if we didn’t do it properly, we would have commissioners coming in and telling us how to do it,” County Cllr Martin added. He said local authorities now faced the “threat without the carrot [of funding]”.
County Cllr Peter Buckley, cabinet member with responsibility for Prevent, said it was “not just a funding issue”.
In a statement, the Home Office said it did not comment on specific resourcing decisions, but added: “Funding for Prevent delivery in local areas is decided on a case-by-case basis.
“In order to determine which areas have the highest threat, we conduct an annual exercise drawing on a range of quantitative information – for example, relevant arrest data and domestic extremism-related information.
“We work with policing partners to ensure we regularly review the changing threat and allocate resources accordingly.”
WHAT IS PREVENT?
The Prevent programme was introduced in 2003 and is designed to divert at-risk individuals away from extremism and terrorism. In 2015, various organisations and institutions, including councils and schools, became subject to the “Prevent duty” – which means they must have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.
In spite of being a tool to tackle all forms of extremism, Prevent has been criticised in some quarters for focusing too heavily on the Muslim community. It was described as “a toxic brand” by a former senior Muslim police officer.
Detective Chief Inspector Scott Waddington, from the North West counter terrorism policing unit, said there was a “measured approach” to how the policy is implemented in Lancashire.
“There’s not going to be doors crashing in just because there has been a report [to the Prevent team] – it is simply about safeguarding,” DCI Waddington told Lancashire County Council’s internal scrutiny committee.
“If you feel it, hear it or see it, report it…and allow us to have a look at it – I trust the system,” he added.
When concerns are raised about an individual, their risk of becoming involved in terrorism is assessed by a local multi-agency group called the ‘Channel Panel’.
Chris Coyle, vice-chair of Prevent in Lancashire, said the panel investigates whether the behaviour which prompted the referral is “malicious, misguided or misinformed”.
A decision is then made about whether to “adopt” the individual and offer support to lead them in a different direction. Specialists in the theories which fuel extremism would then engage with the person who had been referred.
“The Channel Panel doesn’t have all the answers – but it works to join up the people who do have the answers,” Chris Coyle said, adding that it required the “consent” of those referred in order to be effective.
Committee members heard that anybody reporting an individual to the Prevent programme would be invited to contribute to the Channel Panel’s assessment and that they would be kept informed of what action was then taken, as well as the outcome of the process.
But DCI Waddington explained that there were “exceptions [when], quite clearly, you’re not going to find anything out – and for good reasons”.
And Pam Smith, Lancashire County Council’s lead officer for Prevent, told the committee that “good news stories” from the programme were equally important to share.
“We want to keep communities cohesive – it’s about integration, which helps reduce tensions,” she said.
FACTS AND STATS
***In Lancashire, there were more than 60 referrals to the county’s Channel Panel in the last year.
***Across the UK, 7,631 individuals were referred to Prevent services in 2015/16, but only 5 percent went on to receive specialist intervention.
***Concerns about Islamist extremism accounted for 65 percent of referrals, compared to 10 percent relating to right-wing extremism.
***The most referrals came from the 15-20-year-old age bracket.
Source of UK statistics: Home Office