Saturday 31 October 2015

Arsenic and Old Lace at Preston Library Community Hub tonight

Excellent Halloween entertainment tonight (Saturday) at Preston Library Community Hub Cinema. 7.15pm for 7.30 start. This week's film is Arsenic & Old Lace (1944), a murderous comedy starring Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane & Raymond Massey.

Friday 30 October 2015

Sudden death of Cllr Dan Filson, Chair of Brent Scrutiny Committee

Dan Filson's Twitter profile
Labour councillors have been expressing their shock on Twitter this evening following the sudden death of Dan Filson, Chair of Brent Scrutiny Committee and a councillor for Kensal Green ward.  Warm tributes have been paid to an independent man who was a real character.  Readers will be familiar with his attempt to sharpen up the role of the Scrutiny Committee when he took over as Chair.

Dan had a combative presence on Twitter so it is fitting that colleagues and friends used the medium to pay tribute:
Cllr Shama Tatler:  There are few people in the world who truly live their principles. @Dan_Filson was a decent, honourable gentleman. RIP comrade@BrentLabour

Cllr Sam Stopp:  .@BrentLabour has lost its most decent and principled councillor with @Dan_Filson 's passing. Totally irreplaceable. We are in shock.

Dawn Butler:  R.I.P Brent's very special Cllr Dan Filson. A lover of fine wine. I will so miss your naughty sense of humour 
Cllr Matthew Kelcher: Terrible news today at the passing of @Dan_Filson - he was a great friend, mentor and comrade and always put #kensalgreen first. Will miss you.
For my part we had many political differences and crossed swords a number of times but shared a commitment to effective scrutiny and transparency. He was always civil when we met personally and good fun to sit next to in the public gallery during council or committee meetings - his dry wit commentary was always entertaining.

He will be missed both politically and personally.

Barnet UNISON 24 hour strike on Monday November 2nd

Barnet UNISON members who still work for Barnet Council (excluding community schools) will begin a 24 hour strike action on Monday 2 November 

The dispute involves social workers, coach escorts, drivers, occupational therapists, schools catering staff, education welfare officers, library workers, children centre workers, street cleaning & refuse workers, all of whom have made it clear they want to remain employees of Barnet Council and don’t want to be outsourced.

In November 2015 a number of Barnet Council Committees will be making decisions about the future employment of staff working in

· Education and Skills and School Meals

· Adult Social care

· Children’s Centres

This is all part of the wider strategy to reduce the workforce to a small core of commissioners.

Our Picket Lines will be:

· Barnet House from 7 am.

· Mill Hill Depot—Starts 6 am onwards.

· Edgware Library —Start 9 am onwards.

UNISON Branch Secretary John Burgess said:
Our members want to work for the Council, they want to be directly accountable to the residents of Barnet. Our members don’t want to work for an employer which will have to place the shareholders’ legal demands before local residents’ needs. Our members don’t want to work for an employer which uses zero hours contracts. Our members don’t want to work for an employer which will not pay the London Living Wage as a basic minimum. Our members don’t want to work for an employer which won’t allow their colleagues to belong to their Pension Scheme, and our members don’t want to work for an employer which will take jobs out of the borough. That’s why 87% of our members working for the Council voted ‘Yes’ to taking strike action. So far the Council has failed to come close to agreeing to any one of these demands. One of our members has written and produced a music campaign video called “UNISON Army” which pretty much sums up the mood of our members take a look. (see above)  

Direct action needed to challenge the Trade Union Bill

The government's Trade Union Bill represents an assault on the last bastion of opposition to neo-liberalism a crowded meeting at Learie Constantine Centre heard last night. The meeting, organised by Brent Central Labour Party and Brent Trades Union Council, heard from John Burgess of Barnet Unison, Michael Brady of Unite the Resistance, Ian Hodson of the Bakers' union BFAWU and Hank Roberts of the ATL.  Dawn Butler, MP for Brent Central rounded off the discussion with an account of current events in Parliament.

Although they addressed the issue from different perspectives all contributors emphasised the seriousness of the attack on trade union rights and its potential impact on conditions of employment and social justice.

John Burgess, who is currently standing for election as General Secretary of Unison LINK outlined the exemplary Unison campaign in Barnet against the council's privatisation agenda which will see most services out-sourced. He said that he'd had a meeting with Muhammed Butt, Labour leader of Brent Council, to tell him not to get into bed with Barnet Council. 

Michael Brady spoke of the need to put words into action and for direct action against unjust laws as soon as any one union or group of workers fell victim to the laws. This was echoed by Ian Hodson who said they 'can't put all of us in prison'. He said the right to withdraw our labour is what makes the duifference between a worker and a slave.

From the floor, Peter Murry, Secretary of the Green Party Trade Union Group, read out Caroline Lucas' statement  denouncing the Bill as a 'savage and vindictive assault on UK employment rights' and underlying her willingness to take part in non-violent direct action if necessary to challenge an unjust law. Dawn Butler remarked that she did not want to end up in prison but clearly saw that as a possibility of the law went through.

Hank Roberst said,  'We must never  underestimate the ruthlessness of these people' and went on to give the context of the assault i education  where first the government had bribed schools to become academies, then threatened them, then forced indiivudual schools to seek sponsors and were now trying to force all schools to become academies. The final destination was for schools to be ru for profit.

In a contributionfrom the floor I spoke about the need to be aware of, and build solidarity, over other attempts to curb rights in the Counter Extremism Bill, Prevent Strategy, Extremism Disruption Orders and plans to repeal the Human Rights Act. The Trade Union Bill was part of a wider strategy to use the label of Extremist against those challenging the governemnt and turn us all into 'Domesticated Moderates'.

There will be a lobby of parliament on the TU Bill on Monday November 2nd. Details below:

For those who can't make the lobby there will be an 'After Work' protest on Mondat at 6pm in Parliament Square. Organised by the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group the speakers will include Matt Wrack (FBU General Secretary), Christine Blower (NUT General Secreary), Steve Gillian (POA General Secretary) Jo Stevens MP, Lisa Cameron MP and Natalie Bennett (Leader, Green Party).

Greens 'overjoyed' at Shaker Aamer Release

 One of the many campaign videos - this from 2012

Green Party deputy leader Shahrar Ali has said he is ‘overjoyed’ at the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo Bay, but said the case highlighted the “urgent need” for a judge-led inquiry into UK complicity in torture, which was promised by David Cameron in 2010.

Ali said:
I am overjoyed to hear that Shaker Aamer has been released from Guantánamo after so many years of appalling, degrading treatment. I can't begin to imagine what it must feel like to be separated from one's family for over 13 years, and from a child he has never seen, born soon after his captivity.

I hope Shaker can now spend quality time with his family. Shaker’s case reinforces the urgent need for the judge-led inquiry into UK complicity in torture that the Prime Minister promised in 2010 but then backtracked on.

I wish to pay tribute to the unrelenting political pressure that has been sustained by those campaigning for Shaker's and others' release, year on year. The Green Party will continue to stand with them in the fight against torture and unlawful imprisonment around the world.

Brent Fly-Tipping Report's wide-ranging recommendations

The Final Report of the Brent Scrutiny Committee's Fly-Tipping Task Group, head by Cllr Sam Stopp has now been published.

These are its recommendations:

  1. The task group recommends that the term “Fly-tipping” should be changed to “Illegal Rubbish Dumping” (IRD) in communications with residents. Residents rarely refer to dumped rubbish as fly-tipping and there is apparently confusion among some residents about what “fly-tipping” actually means.
    This is not a good basis on which to communicate with residents about the issue, therefore the task group recommends changing the language we use.
    *We recognise that authorities and bodies outside of Brent will, for the time being, probably continue to refer to illegal rubbish dumping as “fly-tipping”, so we accept that we will have to use this language when communicating with them.
  2. A named officer/s within the Waste Management service should be responsible for continuous monitoring of new methods to tackle IRD, keeping the council abreast of the latest developments and leading improvement practices; not just from other London boroughs and the UK, but from Europe and the rest of the world. The task group supports the behavioural studies that the council is currently participating in as part of the West London Alliance (WLA) and recommends that it should continue to build on this area of work.
  3. Brent Waste Management service should review its internal benchmarking, looking internally at how we monitor our own performance and should report performance quarterly in public. It is recommended that this is communicated to residents and other councillors via the council’s website and Brent Magazine.
  4. Brent Waste Management should liaise with neighbouring London boroughs to develop a benchmarking network. The West London Alliance (WLA) would be a good place to start as there are links already established. There should also be additional cross-border networking, feeding into intelligence with the aim of bringing forward more prosecutions for trade waste dumping.
5. Constitutionally empower “Community Guardians” by appointing, through an agreed selection process, figureheads like the chair of Keep Wembley Tidy. Councillors can support this by identifying suitable candidates. These guardians are to be given a profile on the council’s web page, support and resources from the council and Veolia; to tackle illegal rubbish dumping in their appointed locations.
5.1. It was identified in the task group’s research that residents often identify with different place names than the wards in which they live. The task group is recommending that the community guardians structure in Brent is mapped in the following village localities and guardians are allocated to these areas: 

Dudden Hill
Kensal Rise
           Queens Park

*This list is intended as a guide and residents are of course free to suggest the names for their own campaigns, as well as the areas these campaigns cover. Keep Wembley Tidy covers Wembley Central and Alperton wards, and it is suggested that campaigns should not overlap with one another. This approach should be integrated with the voluntary Community Action Groups.
  1. 5.2.  Guidance and a code of practice for the community guardians and village areas should be drawn up and agreed by officers and residents. This should include action days and identifying and evidencing illegal rubbish dumping hot spots. Village websites should also be linked to the council’s waste management web pages.
  2. 5.3.  It will be a priority of the community guardians, councillors, officers and Veolia to devise and produce a ‘Brent Against Rubbish Dumping Charter’, which Businesses, HMO Landlords and Estate/Letting Agents will be encouraged to sign up to and display publicly.
  3. 5.4.  It will be a priority of the community guardians, councillors, officers and Veolia to engage with places of worship, youth clubs and sports clubs to engage and promote the Brent Against Rubbish Dumping Charter.
6. The process of reporting IRD should be clear and straightforward, so that both residents and officers know what is to be expected and how and when there will be communication between parties. This should be documented on the council’s IRD web page.
  1. Brent waste management and Veolia should liaise with Brent education and Brent schools partnership to ensure that there is a strategic anti-Illegal rubbish dumping programme going into schools, aimed at both primary school and secondary school level. The programme should be continuous and target 100% of schools on an annual basis, encouraging schools to sign up to the Brent Against Rubbish Dumping Charter. Progress should be reported on the council waste management web page on a quarterly basis.
  2. Business liaison should be part of an officer’s role; this should include an evaluation of any non-monetary incentives that can be offered. Brent should encourage businesses to sponsor a bin or bins, as a result of which businesses will become certified and will be allowed to display a Brent Council sign stating that they are opposed to IRD.
  3. Additional resources should be invested in to the Special Collection Service, so that items are collected sooner and the number of bulky items illegally dumped is reduced. Other alternative options for waste disposal and recycling should be promoted with direct links on the council’s web page and offered on the phone when residents call to request Special Collection Services such as Freecycle and Freegle.
  1. The task group recommends the formation of a strategic approach between Waste Management Enforcement services and the CCTV service to ensure more use of the current CCTV provision to monitor IRD hotspots. It is understood that this will require collecting evidence and providing a supported case for each camera.
    *The task group endorses all of the recommendations on IRD made by the concurrent CCTV task group.
  2. Waste management services, specifically trade and Environmental health services, must work together more strategically; sharing information and working on joint visits where there is clear intelligence that there are crosscutting priorities.
  3. A strategic approach between Housing Enforcement and Waste Management Enforcement services via Veolia should be formed to ensure that HMO landlords are educated as to their responsibilities regarding waste disposal for themselves and their tenants.
  4. Enlist the support of night workers such as black cab drivers and night bus drivers to use the cleaner Brent app and report any perpetrators of IRD. This could be achieved by contacting taxi firms and Transport for London to explain our case and by asking them to cascade our request down to workers. The council would in turn be able to release positive press stories about these organisations.
  5. We will look to pre-capitalise on new fly-tipping legislation, to be brought forward next year, by following a similar model to Ealing Council, as below:
    ‘The council has teamed up with Kingdom Security to provide dedicated teams of uniformed officers in the borough. Kingdom Security will work with the council’s environmental enforcement officers, providing a high-profile deterrent and issuing £80 fines. Operating initially on a one-year trial basis, Kingdom Security is working at no cost to the council. Instead they will take a share of the fines they issue’.
  6. The Council should work with other local authorities and the National Fly-tipping Prevention Group to lobby the Government for more effective enforcement powers.
  7. The selective Landlord licensing scheme should be reviewed annually and reported on publicly with statistics on how effective the scheme has been, where it has been effective, areas where the council can strengthen its enforcement and any lessons learnt.
  8. The landlord licensing guidance should have more detail in the wording regarding waste & refuse, so that it is harder for landlords to avoid discharging their responsibilities effectively.
The most referenced licensed scheme is that of Newham Council’s. Newham’s licensing condition in respect of waste simply requires that “No refuse shall be kept in the front or rear garden other than in an approved storage container for that purpose”.
  1. Further investigation is required into the impact of the garden waste collection charges. Cabinet should review its effectiveness from a cost and efficiency perspective, annually until 2018.
  2. Owing to the lack of quantitative data to evidence the effects of the garden waste charge at this stage, officers should review and report the effects of its first year in operation. Officers should devise logical metrics against which it can compare its performance annually until 2018.
  3. The number of Brent residents that have signed up, and continue to sign up, to the Garden waste collection service should be more widely publicised. The Brent website and Brent magazine should be the media for this.
  1. Future publicity about IRD should be continuous, mainly word-of-mouth and not confined to one-off PR campaigns. The last major PR campaign in 2013 involved large, difficult-to- read signs under which rubbish was dumped. It also saw photo opportunities to show the lead member was determined to deal with the issue, but officers confirm that it had little tangible impact on levels of IRD.
  2. Officers, councillors and community guardians need to visit relevant local meeting places – whether they be religious meeting places, youth clubs or sports clubs – to pass on the council’s messages about IRD and how communities can work with Brent to tackle it.
  3. Leafleting campaigns led by the council and voluntary groups should be in multiple languages, appropriate to the socio-dynamics of the local area.
  4. Any future communications should also be easy-to-read with no conflicting messages. This should be backed up with targeted local advertising. Brent London Underground and National rail stations are prime locations for such advertising.
  5. The Cleaner Brent App requires further publicity, and probably a re-launch, as not enough people are aware it exists. There should be further publicity on the web and in the Brent magazine.

Thursday 29 October 2015

Free Speech Campaign launched to challenge 'broad and vague' Extremism Disruption Orders

Britain’s most eclectic, unlikely campaign group - Defend Free Speech - has been launched this week, in a bid to halt the Government’s planned introduction of Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs), which it says will threaten free speech.

The Defend Free Speech campaign is spearheaded by normally rival groups, the Christian Institute and the National Secular Society. It is backed by former shadow Home Secretary David Davis MP, Caroline Lucas MP, ex-Chief Constable Lord Dear – who will lead the campaign in the House of Lords – and human rights defender Peter Tatchell. Other supporters include Big Brother Watch, English PEN, the Manifesto Club and the Peter Tatchell Foundation. 

The campaigners warn that the Government’s proposals to tackle extremism - in particular far right and Islamist extremism - are so broad and vague that they could penalise a range of dissenting and minority opinions.

They say the sweeping new powers will have a chilling effect on free speech because the Government has repeatedly failed to set out a definition of what will be considered extreme. Ministers have, however, confirmed that the legislation will clamp down on extremists even if they have not broken the law - a very sinister and menacing attack on liberty and human rights.

Simon Calvert, Director of Defend Free Speech, noted:
Defend Free Speech believes innocent people will fall foul of this unnecessary and dangerous piece of legislation. It will criminalise those who hold unpopular, unfashionable or challenging views. This could include pro- and anti-religious groups, trade unionists, environmental and animal rights activists, critics of UK foreign policy and people campaigning for LGBT rights. Indeed, we have already seen police urging teachers to report on parents who go to anti-fracking protests.
We are deeply concerned with the Government’s plans. The complete absence of safeguards and any clear definition of what is deemed to be extreme will have a chilling effect on free speech and campaigners.
We might be Britain’s most unlikely campaign group, but we are united in our belief that free speech is a vital civil liberty and must be protected. This legislation is badly conceived and will be bad for society.
Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights lobby, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, added:
Extremism Disruption Orders are too sweeping and too open to abuse. They risk transforming lawful activities into criminal offences in a way that threatens freedom of expression. The definition of extremism is far too wide and the threshold for an EDO is way too low. It could be imposed for words or actions that are ‘on the balance of probabilities’ extremist, rather than ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ extremist. Even the mere causing of offence or distress may be sufficient to trigger an EDO.
Proponents of a range of unpopular, controversial and dissident views may be liable to an EDO, including opponents of western foreign policy, campaigners against nuclear weapons and energy, animal rights activists, people who express bigoted opinions and supporters of legitimate democratic liberation movements in the Western Sahara, Palestine, Syria, Balochistan and West Papua.
Hateful and extremist ideas should be challenged, protested and refuted. Bad ideas are most effectively countered by good ideas backed up by rational argument and evidence. Heavy-handed legal restrictions on free speech undermine the democratic, liberal values that extremists oppose and that we cherish.
Free speech is one of the most precious of all human rights and should be defended robustly. It can only be legitimately restricted by the law when it involves harmful libels, harassment, menaces, threats and incitements to violence.
Defend Free Speech highlights that earlier this year the Prime Minister David Cameron introduced the proposals with the chilling words: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.” He then went on to promise that the Government “will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach.”

Chancellor George Osborne wrote to a constituent that the remit of the legislation would go “beyond terrorism” and that it would seek to “eliminate extremism in all its forms.”
He went on to say that it would apply to “harmful activities of extremist individuals who spread hate but do not break laws.” His letter failed to define what harmful activities are or even what is extremism.

The Defend Free Speech campaign warns EDOs could be used to prevent individuals from going to certain places, mixing with particular people or even using mobile phones, the internet and social media. 

Crucially, the group says the Government will use the lower civil law test of “the balance of probabilities” rather than the stronger criminal test of “beyond reasonable doubt” and that even the mere risk of causing “distress” could be enough to trigger the new powers.

To highlight their concerns, the campaign has published a number of examples on its website of people and groups it believes could be affected by EDOs:
It says the Government needs to urgently engage with campaigners, parliamentarians and pressure groups who could end up on the wrong side of the law if EDOs are approved without safeguards. 

Caroline Lucas MP warned:

I’ll be taking every opportunity to oppose Extremism Disruption Orders when the relevant legislation comes before the House of Commons. This kind of draconian crackdown lacks a credible evidence basis, represents an infringement of basic rights, and may well actually be counterproductive.

Reform call as deaths, assault and self-injury rise in our 'dangerous, deadly' prisons

The number of people who have died, been assaulted or injured themselves in prison has risen to its highest level for a decade, in figures revealed by the Howard League for Penal Reform today.
Statistics published by the Ministry of Justice show that 267 people died in prisons in England and Wales in the 12 months to the end of September 2015.

This number included seven homicides – more than double the number recorded in any year since 2006.

The figures show that 186 prisoners took their own lives between October 2013 and September 2015. 

This means that, over the last two years, a prisoner in England and Wales has taken their own life every four days.

The number of self-injury incidents recorded in prisons in England and Wales rose by 21 per cent in the 12 months to the end of June 2015. The number of serious assaults on prisoners and staff rose by 31 per cent and 42 per cent respectively over the same period.

The increase in the number of deaths, assaults and self-injury incidents has occurred at a time when the prison population has risen, overcrowding has become more acute and there have been deep cuts to staffing levels.

The figures were published today in the Ministry of Justice’s latest ‘Safety in Custody’ statistical bulletin.

The Howard League and Centre for Mental Health have embarked on a joint programme of work on suicides in prison, supported by The Monument Trust, designed to find ways to end the death toll for good.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:
These horrendous statistics spell out the scale of the challenge for the new Secretary of State for Justice and his ministers.

It is surely evident that people are dying as a result of the cuts to the number of staff, particularly more experienced staff, in every prison. Prisons have become more dangerous and more deadly, and that does not bode well for communities when prisoners are released from such pressured environments.

Radical reform is required, or the human cost of our failing prisons will continue to rise.

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Green Councillors on Norfolk County Council resign committee positions over 'savage' spending cuts

In the light of an earlier post on local council cuts and the new Labour leadership LINK I thought readers might be interested in this news:

Green Party County Councillors Richard Bearman and Elizabeth Morgan will today stand down from their positions as Vice-Chairs of Norfolk County Council’s Communities and Adult Social Care committees, to take effect at the next full Council meeting.  Both councillors have said that they feel unable to implement the "savage spending cuts" which the government would force them to make.

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement and financial settlement is expected to deliver further cuts to local authorities, and the Green Party's councillors have warned that further reductions in government grants to councils will undoubtedly damage the ability of Norfolk County Council to deliver statutory services.

Norfolk County Council has seen its budget reduced dramatically over the past 3 years, and is going to have to save at least a further £111M in the years 2016-19. The modelling of a 25% reduction in funding, equivalent to £169M  over a three-year period has brought into sharp relief the potential devastating effects on local libraries, fire services and children’s social care.

Green group leader Councillor Richard Bearman explained:
“Efficiency savings are one thing, but we are being asked to support spending cuts which go way beyond this. We are effectively being expected to deliver a Conservative party manifesto for local councils; and as county councillors and members of the Green party we are not prepared to do that.”
He continued:
"The anti-austerity movement in this country needs to get its message heard in Whitehall loud and clear. The path of deficit reduction chosen by this Conservative government by slashing the funds they give to local government will change forever the way councils operate."
The trade union Unison, which represents council employees, recently described some of the proposals as “devastating” for staff and services. According to its local branch secretary, the cuts could lead to hundreds of job losses for Norfolk county Council employees.

Councillor Morgan echoed this, saying:
“The cuts to local government funding are hitting vulnerable people the hardest, and although one of the council’s four key priorities is supporting vulnerable people, we find ourselves forced into a position where we are simply no longer able to do that adequately.”
She added: 
“I did not get elected to implement the kind of cuts the chancellor wants us to, which would dismantle the essential services so many people in Norfolk rely on." 
Both councillors keep a place on their respective committees and will hand over any special responsibilities to their successors.  

 The Green Party has 14 Norwich City Councillors (Labour 22, Lib-Dems 3) 

 Natalie Bennett, Green Party Leader, said:
"I know these two councillors personally and I know how dedicated they are to the welfare of Norfolk communities, and particularly to the most vulnerable people in them.

"Like councillors up and down the country, they are seeing funds for essential services slashed, communities torn apart by the loss of facilities and support, and I commend them for taking action to highlight this.

"Austerity is making the poor, the disadvantaged and the young pay for the greed and the fraud of the bankers - and that's hitting home in the furthest corners of rural Norfolk as well as in its cities and towns.

Monday 26 October 2015

Over-confident police have more misconceptions about legal policing issues than the public

The general public know more about issues critical to policing then than the police themselves, according to new research conducted by an academic at London South Bank University (LSBU).
Researchers examined misconceptions of legal issues by law enforcement officers compared to the general public’s knowledge on these topics. The research is the very first study to look at these misconceptions in the UK.
Dr Julia Shaw, Senior Lecturer at LSBU, and Parole Officer Chloe Chaplin provided 44 police officers and 56 members of the general public questions on several topics relevant to modern policing.
The study – published in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology – asked participants to complete an online questionnaire comprised of 50 true and false items. The questions covered a range of legal topics including police procedures, dealing with mentally ill people, and eyewitness memory. Participants were asked to rate their confidence in each of their answers on a 5-point scale from one being the most confident to five being the least confident.
Despite direct involvement and relevant experience with the subject matter, the study found that police got more of their answers incorrect than the general public. Police got 39% of their answers wrong, whilst members of the public made only 37% of errors. However, police were found to be 4% more confident in their responses than the public even when wrong.
Dr Julia Shaw said: “Overconfidence is a common characteristic in professional industries, as there is an assumption by professionals that they must know more about their own topics than outsiders. However, when applied to policing, this can have severe consequences for our justice system.
“This research shows that British police do not know enough about things like how eyewitness memory works, how to effectively question suspects, and what kinds of services offenders have access to.
“While public beliefs about issues relevant to the legal system have been demonstrated to often be wrong, this was the first study to look at these misconceptions in policing. It is expected that the research will be used to inform police training in the future.”

Challenging the Prevent Strategy: an outline of the concerns

A number of local groups are working together to hold a meeting on Prevent in Brent on Thursday December 10th. The Prevent Strategy raises a number of important issues and these will be covered by a panel of speakers. Bill Bolloten who wrote the piece below will one of the panel. Many thanks to Bill and the Institute of Race Relations LINK  , who first published this piece,  for permission to republish as a guest blog.

Bill BollotenAn edited version of a speech given by one of the UK’s most respected independent educational consultants at the joint IRR/CCIF seminar ‘Securitisation, Schools and Preventing Extremism’.

First, thanks to the IRR and the Collective Against Islamophobia in France for convening this meeting and providing a valuable opportunity for colleagues working in education, as well as others, to discuss our concerns about the Prevent duty.

I am a teacher and independent education consultant. I work with schools, school governors and children’s services on equality and diversity, and also on SMSC – the requirement for schools to promote pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. In case you didn’t know, that is the framework through which the government and Ofsted now require schools to actively promote so-called ‘fundamental British values’.

I am active in #EducationNotSurveillance, a network of parents, teachers, educationalists, activists and academics, who argue that the new statutory Prevent duty is misguided, counter-productive and damaging to both pupils and schools. We have come together to challenge Prevent and how it is being implemented in schools and early education settings.

We will shortly be launching the #EducationNotSurveillance website, aimed primarily at school leaders, teachers, parents, early education practitioners as well as teachers’ professional associations. We are developing a statement that we want people to get behind, and we aim to provide information, analysis and arguments explaining the consequences of the Prevent duty.

As part of our opposition and challenge to Prevent we also want to give out a clear and positive message that we believe in education that is inspirational, that develops pupils’ critical thinking, celebrates cultural diversity, promotes equality and fosters the trust and goodwill needed to explore sensitive and difficult issues.

New duties, flawed concepts

On 1 July 2015, the new legal duty was placed on schools and early years and childcare providers to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. The revised statutory guidance stipulates that ‘being drawn into terrorism includes not just violent extremism but also non-violent extremism, which can create an atmosphere conducive to terrorism and can popularise views which terrorists then exploit.’

Schools and early years providers are now assessed by Ofsted to check that they are implementing Prevent. You will also be aware that Prevent has been through different phases since its inception but currently its most important dimension is Channel, a referral, multi-agency assessment and intervention process meant to protect people at risk of ‘radicalisation’. Channel is driven by multi-agency panels in which the police play a leading role.

I want to identify some of the key concerns about the Prevent duty as well as suggest some positive alternative approaches. And I will end by discussing some of the challenges we face in organising against Prevent in partnership with teachers as well as the pupils, parents and communities that Prevent is impacting on.

Firstly, the model that underpins the government’s concept of ‘radicalisation’, and which is central to Prevent, is informed by notion of ‘psychological vulnerability’; that individuals must have certain vulnerabilities that make them more likely to engage in terrorism.

This means schools should be identifying signs of such vulnerabilities to then be able to halt the process of ‘radicalisation’. It is interesting that leaked guidance provided to the Cabinet’s home affairs committee stated that it was wrong ‘to regard radicalisation as a linear “conveyor belt” moving from grievance, through radicalisation, to violence’.

Secondly, the Prevent strategy and the new duty are fixated on ‘extremist ideology’; the view that people are drawn into terrorism almost exclusively through ideology. Yet research suggests that social, economic and political factors, as well as social exclusion, play a more central role in driving political violence than ideology.

In the UK therefore, but also in the USA and Australia, training for teachers, often delivered by police officers, urges teachers to report signs of radicalisation among their pupils, despite there being simply no empirical evidence at all to support the idea that terrorism can be correlated with factors to do with family, identity and emotional wellbeing.

One writer described this as ‘orientalist pseudoscience’. Beneath the jargon on ‘risks’, ‘vulnerabilities’, ‘engagement factors’ and ‘psychological hooks’, is an invitation to limitless racial and religious profiling in which normal teenage behaviours, or a young person’s beliefs, can be seen as indicators of being on the pathway to violent extremism. In fact, again, studies show that there is no direct link at all between religious observance, radical ideas, emotional wellbeing and violent acts.
But this is how Prevent operates in schools: identifying threats before they emerge in the so-called ‘pre-crime space’.

You might remember that a senior British police officer, Scotland Yard commander Mak Chishty, recently called for a move into the ‘private space of Muslims’ and offered specific advice: if a teenager stops shopping at Marks and Spencer, it could be because they had been radicalised. He also suggested watching for subtle unexplained changes such as sudden negative attitudes towards alcohol and western clothing.

A huge concern is therefore the tremendous risk of abuse and mistake in any approach that tries to predict future criminal activity, including terrorism.

By requiring schools and teachers to put pupils under surveillance, casting particular suspicion on Muslim pupils, and profiling them for behaviours that have no real connection to criminal behaviour, Prevent confuses the different professional roles of teachers and the police, and draws educational practitioners into becoming the eyes and ears of the counter-terrorism system.

An example of this is that there are now several private companies selling anti-radicalisation software to schools. If school pupils search for words such as ‘caliphate’ or ‘jihad’, or the names of Muslim political activists on classroom computers they risk being flagged as potential supporters of terrorism. A really sinister feature of the software being marketed by the company called Impero, is a ‘confide button’ allowing pupils to report on classmates anonymously.

Destroying trust, fostering discrimination

Expecting teachers and childcare professionals to identify potential extremists undermines trust and positive relationships.

We argue that mutual respect and trust between teachers and pupils is essential for learning environments where everyone feels safe and valued.

The constant monitoring of Muslim students will destroy trust and encourage discrimination against them.

How much confidence can Muslim communities have in Prevent in schools when many serious abuses are being reported already?

You will have seen many examples in the media. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) also submitted a series of case studies to David Anderson QC, the UK’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, and these were included in an annex in his recently published annual report.

These cases confirm the worst fears we had about the statutory Prevent duty in schools. We are seeing the duty being implemented naïvely in some schools, but also in crude, damaging and discriminatory ways in others. These are often schools where teachers have attended the ‘official’ Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent (WRAP) training.

Here are some examples:
  • A fifteen-year-old was questioned by police at home about his views on Syria and Daesh because he wore a ‘Free Palestine’ badge to school and handed out some leaflets promoting the boycotts, divestments and sanctions movement. Al Jazeera subsequently reported the conversation between the student and police officer: ‘I explained to him my views about freedom and justice and that I supported Palestine. I said I thought Israel should have tough sanctions put upon it and he said these could be radical beliefs,’ the boy said. ‘He said these are terrorist-like beliefs that you have. He explicitly said you cannot speak about this conflict at school with your friends,’ the boy said.
  • In another case, a fourteen-year-old was referred to Prevent without his parents’ consent for not engaging in a music lesson.
  • A schoolchild mentioned the ‘history of the Caliphate’ in a piece of homework about British foreign policy and was referred to social services for signs of radicalisation.
  • A teacher decided to call in the parents of a student after they used the Arabic term for ‘praise be to God’.
  • A Muslim schoolboy was questioned about Islamic State after a classroom discussion about environmental activism. He was left ‘scared and nervous’ by his experience, and afterwards was reluctant to join in class discussions for fear of being suspected of extremism.
Prevent is clearly leading to negative stereotyping of Muslim children and young people, and racial and religious profiling.

As Muslim pupils are now monitored and scrutinised through a securitised lens there is now little doubt that those who fit the profile set out in the Channel Vulnerability Assessment Framework will increasingly find themselves unfairly targeted.

New York Lawyer Sergio De La Pava, reflecting on police brutality towards minority communities in the US, recently commented: ‘Being targeted is horrid, but nothing breeds enmity quite like being unfairly targeted.’

We argue then that the Prevent duty is institutionalising anti-Muslim racism and Islamophobia in schools.

We also believe that Prevent is undermining the duties of the schools under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that direct and indirect unlawful discrimination is taken seriously, and that individuals or groups of students should not be treated unfairly or put at a disadvantage.

Making schools less safe

Prevent is making discussion of sensitive and controversial issues much more difficult in schools. Pupils with political opinions or who take part in protests are also coming under increasing surveillance. If the safe space that schools provide for discussion is restricted, and pupils feel that they can’t share their opinions without being reported, there is a risk that they may seek out spaces that are less safe.

Children and young people need to be able to speak openly with teachers about the issues they feel strongly about, including sensitive and controversial ones, without the fear that they will be profiled or put under suspicion.

The MCB has particularly expressed concern that Muslims are being treated differently to others, and that some parents are therefore training their children to restrict their speech.

It is perfectly legitimate, for example, for young people to criticise government foreign policy; to oppose the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan; to express support for Palestinian rights or to express either support for or opposition to the Israeli government. One may agree or disagree with such views, however they form part of legitimate discussion and debate.

Undermining the Children’s Convention

As a result of this, the Prevent duty presents a number of specific threats to the rights of children and young people. Despite the UK government being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a legally binding international agreement, there appears to have been no consideration at all given to the Convention as the Prevent duty was drafted. Apart from the key articles that ensure rights apply to all children without discrimination (Article 2), and the principle that governments must act in children’s best interests (Article 3), I think there are very specific concerns in relation to Article 13 which outlines how every child has the right to freedom of expression and ideas.

As Arun Kundnani recently commented: ‘The great risk is creating an atmosphere of self-censorship – where young people don’t feel free to express themselves in schools, or youth clubs or at the mosque. If they feel angry or have a sense of injustice but nowhere to engage in a democratic process and in a peaceful way, then that’s the worst climate to create for terrorist recruitment.’
Schools are now required to actively promote ‘fundamental British values’, including ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.’

By branding opposition to British values as ‘extremist’, the government are engaged in a similar process as can be seen in France: a crude attempt to create a forced consensus, in the same the way the French secular principle of laïcité has become a tool to reinforce narrow judgements about French identity and discriminate against minorities.

The challenges ahead

I will end by outlining some key questions and challenges:

1. What will the cost of Prevent be for the dignity, confidence and sense of belonging of Muslim children?

In a powerful piece earlier this year, Safeguarding little Abdul, Prevent Muslim schoolchildren and the lack of parental consent, Yahya Birt asked his readers to imagine Abdul, a 12-year-old pupil:
‘Abdul deserves a better future. One in which he is treated a citizen rather than as a suspect. Where he can disagree, sometimes even be bold and radical in disagreeing if he chooses to do so, without being labelled an extremist. Where he can be proud rather than be ashamed of being a Muslim. He deserves to be inspired at school, opened up to new possibilities, for his autonomy to be nurtured and respected. This is the kind of schooling and the kind of country that we need to fight for.’

2. What will be the short and long-term impact of Prevent on schools and teachers?

Already, in many schools, Prevent is causing significant nervousness and confusion among teachers. There is increasing evidence that teachers identify it as counter-productive and dangerous.
The new duty risks closing down the very opportunities where the classroom can be used to develop an inclusive curriculum that fosters democratic skills and explores human rights.

A teacher, who did not want to be identified, told a Guardian journalist that her Muslim pupils had become more careful about what they talked about for fear of being referred through Prevent. She added that assessment by Ofsted on how schools were protecting children from radicalisation added an extra pressure on teachers.

3. What do we need to do next to challenge Prevent and thinking behind it, and work towards its repeal?

The National Union of Teachers statement on the Prevent duty was welcome and encouraging:
‘Teachers need opportunities to work together, and with local schools, to develop proportionate and sensible ways for schools to respond to the different risks young people face – one of which, for a comparatively small number of young people, might be exposure to individuals advocating violence.’

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWTunion moved a motion, unanimously passed at September’s TUC Congress in Brighton, arguing that Prevent ‘could destroy relationships between teachers and learners’. Requiring teachers to spy on and report pupils would ‘close down space for open discussion in a safe and secure environment and smother the legitimate expression of political opinion.’

However other professional associations such as the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) are leading training in partnership with advocates for Prevent such as the founder of Inspire, Sara Khan and Birmingham headteacher Kanal Hanif. They also recommend to schools the ‘official’ workshop to raise awareness of Prevent (WRAP) training sessions.

We must work towards repeal of the Prevent duty on schools, but we need more discussion on what we need to do to achieve that.

I suggest that this must involve engagement with school leaders, teachers and governing bodies, as well as working with the NUT, NASUWT and other professional associations.

We also need to develop close partnerships with the communities, pupils and families who Prevent is targeting, and ensure that as well as playing a leading role in campaigning, they can also access expert advice, support and advocacy.

We also need more expert research and analysis that can inform us of what is happening locally and nationally. There is a key role here for committed journalists, academics and human rights organisations. In particular, the way that Prevent is being driven into schools as part of ‘safeguarding’ needs to be more thoroughly analysed and critiqued so teachers, school leaders and others have the confidence, the evidence and the arguments they need.

Related links

Read Yasser Louati’s speech ‘A French perspective on a British debate’, here
Read the IRR’s press release: ‘Prevent duty “heavy handed and discriminatory“‘
IRR News story: Will the government’s counter-extremism programme criminalise dissent?
IRR News story: The Great British Values Disaster – education, security and vitriolic hate

 A Facebook page, 'Monitoring Prevent in Brent', has been set up HERE

The Dreams of Mo and the Race for Opportunity Awards

Guest blog by Nan Tewari

Brent acceptance speech for race equality award

I'd like to thank Business in the Community for organising the Race for Opportunity Awards 2015.

[I'm absolutely ecstatic at winning this award which will definitely be one in the eye for our detractors most notably Martin Francis and Philip Grant who have nothing better to do than ask questions and expect answers.]

Brent Council has taken action to create a workplace culture which puts race equality at the heart of our activity.........

[Hope you miserable lot at Watford Employment Tribunal are sitting up and taking notice of this vindication.]

........and has demonstrated a strong commitment to ensuring that ethnic minority talent has equal opportunity to progress at every level.

[Ethnic minorities in Brent have an unfortunate habit of getting sacked before they can progress up the ladder and if they manage to survive there are no senior jobs left to progress into anyway – it's nothing personal.]

I couldn't close without paying tribute to the outstanding team at Brent Council that made this award possible – Cara Davani, Christine Gilbert, Andrew Potts.

[Thank heavens The Cronies have gone.  The constant public reminders of race discrimination, victimisation, bullying, Oyster-card misuse, appointing staff without interviews, blah de blah de blah, were doing my head in.]

Expectant hush falls...............

..........and the winner of the Race for Opportunity Awards 2015 in the Transparency, Monitoring and Action category is.................................

Teach First.

And so it came to pass that on October 6th the Brent dream of Bringing Home the Race Equality Trophy lay in tatters.

It was Wembley Matters, intrepid organ beloved of people who expect the odd display of integrity and published by that award-winning cultivator of the phaseolus coccineus (runner-bean grower to you and me) Martin Francis, that broke the astonishing news on 1 July.  Brent Council under the guidance of its preceptress Cara Davani, former Director of HR, had nominated itself for an equality award. LINK

You would have thought that in the face of the Watford Employment Tribunal finding against Brent Council and its HR Director Cara Davani, of victimisation, race discrimination and unfair dismissal against a member of staff, the Council might have not have wanted to risk opening itself up to even further public opprobrium and ridicule but you'd have been wrong.

You may have been forgiven for thinking that the Council's best policy might possibly have encompassed maintaining a judicious low profile for a respectful period until the storm had passed but you'd have been under a misapprehension.

In fact, in its desperate thrashing about to rescue itself from the PR disaster-hood that had dogged the Davani dominion over the Council, the strategy of applying for the equality award emerged as a seemingly heaven-sent opportunity to rubbish the aspersions so unjustly cast upon the Council's and Davani's pristine reputations by the Watford ET and the local plebs.

Public outrage was expressed in no uncertain terms at the time the news broke here of the award entry.  There now appears to a most curious reluctance on the part of the Council to take to its intranet once again to announce the result of the awards dinner on October 6th.

And in other news, congratulations to Teach First who I trust will prove a deserving winner of the Race for Opportunity Awards 2015 in the Transparency, Monitoring and Action category.