Amid last week’s swingeing cuts to local government funding – education, housing, employment – one axe notably failed to swing.
Prevent, Labour’s unloved attempt to tackle Islamic extremism by spending money on a vast range of ill-defined community projects, appeared to be up for the chop amid a litany of criticisms.
A parliamentary select committee report published this year found that Prevent money – doled out to local authorities by the communities department – had been wasted on ‘unfocused or irrelevant projects’.
The report added: ‘Attempts to combine capacity building and community cohesion work with counter-terrorism interventions have been both ineffective and counterproductive.’
The Institute of Race Relations and the Guardian published allegations last year that some police forces were using Prevent-funded schemes as a means to spy on Muslims’ political and religious views – allegations strongly denied by the government.
In fact, opposition to the Prevent programme was about the only thing that British Muslim organisations and febrile neocons such as Douglas Murray could actually agree on.
But while last week’s local government cuts reduced Prevent* funding by £6.5m – with another £7m cut from non-ringfenced Prevent funding – this was only a 53% cut to the overall Prevent budget. Nearly half the Prevent spending remains intact.
It is true that Prevent money – like much of the funding that was cut last week – is directed at Britain’s poorer localities.
However, this is for the dubious reason that it has been handed out based entirely on which areas have the largest Muslim populations. This is not redistributive. It is unwanted, inefficient, ineffective government meddling that has alienated many of the people it was trying to reach.
What will really harm community relations and fuel alienation among members of all communities is cutting funding for the things that really matter – education, housing, jobs and services.
Ironic, then, that the government is cutting funding to these very areas.
A communities department spokesman told this site on Friday that a final decision on the future of the Prevent programme is expected in the coming weeks.
The money involved is small, but the principle is clear. With any luck the government will have the guts to stop trying to micromanage local communities in a costly and cack-handed manner, and finish off Prevent once and for all.
*Aside from local government funding, Prevent money is also disseminated directly by the Foreign Office and the Home Office – relatively little is known about how this money is spent