Monday 6 March 2017

Prevent secrecy prevents effective scrutiny

Wednesday’s meeting of the Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee is to discuss a report on the implementation of the controversial Prevent duty in Brent.  However the report is framed in such a way as to undermine any effective scrutiny. It appears to actually discourage any action on the part of the Committee:
This report is submitted to the committee not as a result of seeking any specific recommendations, but as a direct request from the Committee.
Having stated that it sets out what the report is NOT about:
This report aims to provide an overview of Prevent programme delivery in the borough of Brent. The report will outline how Brent Council are meeting their statutory obligations to deliver the Prevent duty, alongside the aims of the broader Prevent Strategy. 

Whilst the Government published a Counter – Extremism Strategy in October 2015, this will not be covered by the report. Counter – Extremism work is complimentary (sic) to the aims of the Prevent strategy, but is not currently supported by a statutory duty to deliver it. 

Counter – Extremism work is distinct from Prevent programme delivery and does not form an active part of Prevent work. 

The report will concentrate on the implementation of the Prevent duty and related programmes, and not specific project work funded by the Home Office at a community level. 

The result is that the report is purely descriptive of the processes involved with no evaluation and no data.  There are hints at the more controversial  issues but these are not explored:
High quality and consistent training helps Brent to guard against misguided Channel referrals; in particular where there might be a limited understanding of cultural norms and practices. It is our priority whilst trying to successfully deliver the Prevent programme, not to conflate practices that may be regarded as highly observant or extreme, as indicators which actually do not pose a violently extreme, counter – terrorism risk.

To ensure professionals possess confidence in assessing this area, Brent Council centrally commissioned ‘In depth Extremist Ideology Training’ to provide wider context and a firmer understanding of the triggers and drivers that solidify terrorist ideologies.

Brent’s Strategic Prevent Coordinator is currently developing a training module that sits between WRAP and the In Depth Extremist Ideology Training to help frontline staff assess for themselves when a case might be better suited to Early Help, Universal Services, the Channel Programme or wider Social Care support
Despite earlier assurances that Prevent is not aimed at the Muslim community the report states:

The Government has stated that the greatest threat to the UK and its interests comes from Al-Qaida, its affiliates and like-minded groups, for example, ISIS /ISIL. Brent’s main concerns currently come from this strand. These organisations have based their rhetoric on alleged Islamic principles. The borough of Brent has a large Muslim community; this community may feel particularly marginalized as Prevent objectives are addressed. 

The possible marginalisation of the Muslim community is not explored in the report but again surely something that the Scrutiny Committee would want to discuss.  Evidence of community concern, about the Prevent Strategy, as demonstrated at the October ‘Time to Talk About Extremism’ event LINK is not included in the report.  In fact the voice of the community most affected by Prevent is completely absent from the report, but surely must not be absent from the actual Scrutiny meeting.

So what should Scrutiny be asking? Here are some suggestions? 
1.  How many initial referrals were made under Prevent through schools, further education and health?
2.  What was the age, ethnicity and religious profile of these referrals?
3.  For how many of these referrals was no further action taken or referred to other agencies?
4.  How many initial referrals were carried through to the Channel process?
5.  How many individuals refused Channel referral?
6.  What happened to these individuals?
7.  How many Channel referrals were deemed successful in terms of diverting the individuals away from involvement in extremist groups?
8.  What was the breakdown in the nature of the referrals (e.g. right-wing extremism, Islamic extremism, animal rights extremism, Northern Ireland extremist groups)
9.  Who are the community groups chosen to advise the Prevent Delivery Group, how were they chosen and what steps have been taken to ensure they are representative of the community?
10.       What impact has the Prevent Strategy made on the relationship of trust between schools and parents and students and their teachers?
11.       What impact has the Prevent Strategy made on the ability of students to debate controversial issues in schools and college without fear of referral?
12. Please tell us more about 'In depth Extremist Ideology Training'.

Clearly some of these issues would be best addressed by seeking ‘expert witnesses’ to come forward and be examined by the Committee in the manner of Parliamentary Select Committees. 

Full report HERE

1 comment:

Sue said...

I worked in safeguarding for a long time. I think the accompanying report is pretty good. You might struggle on some of your questions though:

1-8 - there is no way they will give this data. This isn't being "secretive" - the numbers will be so small that there would be a risk of identifying individuals. This would be the same for any form of safeguarding, it isn't specific to Prevent.

9 - the report says it's a multi-agency operational group designed to oversee the implementation of the Duty (eg how the council and partners meet their legal duties), so it won't have any community groups involved I shouldn't have thought

10, 11 - not really issues for a local authority, but rather for the government - and any "evidence" would be anecdotal at best.

Hope this helps