The Prevent duty and its government-centred context

Bharath Ganesh

This article is part of a Public Spirit series on The implications of the counter-extremism agenda.

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bharath headshotRushed through Parliament at the start of 2015, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act (CTS Act) provides the government with a range of extensive powers to counter suspected terrorists and extremists. The CTS Act has a number of provisions. These include the empowerment of the Home Secretary to use ‘Temporary Exclusion Orders’ (TEOs) to prevent British citizens suspected of fighting alongside terrorist groups from returning to the United Kingdom. Other measures allow for the seizure of passports. These, however, are not the most controversial points in the Act (though they have been criticised extensively elsewhere).[1] Part 5 of the CTS Act makes the Prevent strategy statutory, enshrined in legislation. In Part 5 of the CTS Act, the foundations of a highly centralised, top-down Prevent apparatus come to light. Prevent, now updated for 2015, eschews community engagement for centralised control.

Prevent, now updated for 2015, eschews community engagement for centralised control

In Part 5, the CTS Act establishes the controversial ‘Prevent duty’ placed on frontline staff of local authorities, the NHS, schools and universities as well as the police and criminal justice institutions[2] to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’.[3] This ‘regard’ is an everyday gaze that frontline staff of specified public authorities must exercise in the daily business of running a council, nursing, and teaching.[4] This is certainly invasive (and has had its fair share of criticism and support); but on the surface, it seems that the power to prevent violent extremism is in the hands of community actors. We see that this is not the case once we read the Prevent duty in context with the broader apparatus of Prevent.

The Prevent duty, in its design and its placement within the broader Prevent strategy, extends centralised power rather than devolving the power to challenge extremism to local and community actors. While much criticism of Prevent has rightly focused on its disproportionate focus on Muslims[5] and their securitisation,[6] I explore the consequences that the new apparatus of Prevent has for countering violence and extremism in communities, explored in depth in my recent report, Implementing Prevent: from a community-led to a government-centred approach.[7] The current strategy involves two key elements: the ‘Counter-Terrorism Local Profile’, a document that serves as the framework for Prevent activities in a local area, as well as the Home Office’s definition of ‘extremism’. Taken together, these processes ensure that the Prevent duty effectively diffuses a centralised system for countering extremism to the immediately local space of everyday life. This presents a troubling development in an area where more, not less, community leadership is required.

The new mechanics of Prevent: CTLPs and the Prevent duty

Prevent activities are centralised primarily through the Counter-Terrorism Local Profile (CTLP) document. Once the CTLP is commissioned and written, it informs how the Prevent duty is to be exercised. The CTLP identifies the risks that frontline staff must watch out for as part of their compliance with the new Prevent duty. Working together, these elements of the Prevent apparatus centralise power and minimise space for community participation.[8]

‘Counter-Terrorism Local Profiles’ are ‘Restricted’ documents that are not available to the public, whilst democratically elected Police Commissioners and even police Prevent leads are optional partners in the CTLP process

In 2012, after the update of the Prevent strategy, the Home Office released guidance on ‘Counter-Terrorism Local Profiles’ or CTLPs. These are ‘Restricted’ documents that are not available to the public. The CTLP is owned by senior counter-terrorism police and is commissioned in collaboration with an analytical team, responsible for writing the document. The only local representative involved in the CTLP process (outside of the police) is the chief executive of the local authority or borough. It is ‘optional’ to invite the local authority’s Prevent coordinator. Other partners are also optional in CTLP commissioning, including members of local Prevent delivery boards and Community Safety Partnerships (responsible for delivering and overseeing Prevent activity). Perhaps most striking is that the newly established Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs)—democratically elected to oversee the police—are also ‘optional’ attendees for the commissioning of the CTLP. Even the police Prevent leads are ‘optional’.[9]

That the CTLP is such a closed process with few essential stakeholders indicates that the Prevent strategy is reluctant to incorporate a diversity of voices and stakeholders. Those stakeholders with clear links to communities, such as elected council officials and PCCs, Prevent delivery and scrutiny boards, and Community Safety Partnerships are passive recipients of the Prevent strategy and uninvolved in the CTLP process, unable to provide their insight and understanding of extremism and political violence at the local level.

Under the 2015 Prevent duty guidance, all local authorities are required to ‘demonstrate evidence of productive co-operation’ between local Prevent coordinators, police, and Community Safety Partnerships as well as other services including the NHS, schools, and universities.[10] This ‘productive co-operation’ will be based on an ‘awareness and understanding of the risk of radicalisation in their area, institution or body’.[11] This risk is measured and defined by the CTLP process as local authorities are explicitly expected to use the CTLP to ‘assess the risk of individuals being drawn into terrorism’.[12]

It is important to understand how the CTLP plays a role in treating community stakeholders and even elected officials as secondary in how we understand and deal with the risk of terrorism in local areas. It informs how the Prevent duty is to be implemented by the staff of a local authority, without requiring their input. Effectively, they are recipients of policy strictures rather than partners in countering violent extremism.

Defining the risk of ‘extremism’

We can see a troubling change in the Prevent approach in David Cameron’s now infamous quote from earlier this year: ‘for too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens “as long you obey the law, we will leave you alone”’.[13] His implication is that even legal dissent and radicalism is now suspect and risky. The quote is demonstrative of the new focus of the Prevent strategy. The ideologies and values expressed by extremists are evidence of ‘radicalisation’ and a possible affinity for terrorism, despite hot contestation amongst terrorism scholars that ideology is the primary factor that leads to political violence.[14] Thus, those that follow the law but do not adhere to ‘British values’ are suspect.

The calculation of ‘risk’ that informs the CTLP is not based on dynamics within communities or reports from citizens or even local officials

The calculation of ‘risk’ that informs the CTLP is not based on dynamics within communities or reports from citizens or even local officials. Instead, in the current Prevent environment, deviance from the Prevent strategy’s highly prescriptive definition of ‘British values’ is a form of extremism. The 2011 strategy stipulates that ‘extremism’ is ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’.[15]

Extremism, then, can be non-violent and even legal. If a person, organisation, or institution, however, expresses ‘extremist’ views (as defined by the Home Office’s policy), they might fall under the suspicious gaze of the Prevent duty. Identifying these ideologies, organisations, or institutions is the explicit job of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) at the Home Office.[16] Once identified, frontline staff, under the Prevent duty, are required to refer any such people to the police or multi-agency panels for deradicalisation, part of the Channel process, which has seen a significant increase in referrals since the 2011 Prevent strategy overhaul.[17]

Policing extremism: the new blueprint of Prevent

I have identified interconnected processes through which the Prevent strategy operates today. At the centre, the CTLP identifies risks for terrorism that, through the police and Prevent coordinator (if invited), and the Chief Executive of a local authority, informs the exercise of the Prevent duty within the area. This risk is not understood as based on predilection for violence, but as deviance from and criticism of so-called ‘British values’.

risk is not understood as based on a predilection for violence, but as deviance from and criticism of so-called ‘British values’

In the current blueprint of Prevent, control flows from the central government to local authorities. The police and the CTLP process facilitate this. The didactic definitions of ‘extremism’ and ‘British values’ are imposed on frontline staff through prescriptive training provided by the Home Office, such as WRAP (Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent). Instead of frontline staff, including teachers, professors, and health professions being involved in identifying genuine threats in their communities, they are the recipients of a prescriptive, centralised system by which ‘risky’ and ‘vulnerable’ people are identified.

The final piece of the new Prevent strategy involves the move to safeguarding ‘vulnerable’ people from being radicalised. This is also part of the CTS Act, in Part 5, Chapter 2, that specifies the involvement of children’s and adult’s safeguarding boards in assessing whether a given person is ‘vulnerable’ to radicalisation, and if so, should be referred on to the Channel programme, a deradicalisation programme led by the Home Office with partners providing ‘intervention services’, such as the Active Change Foundation and London Tigers.[18]

Prevent, under the CTS Act 2015, has filtered down into the everyday business of local governance. While this might ostensibly suggest that more community and local participation can be a part of the new strategy, in fact, the rigid structure of the CTLP and the hard definitions of ‘extremism’ put forth by the Home Office ensures that there is little possibility for community members and frontline staff to participate.

Risk aversion and dissenting opinion

Many have criticised the CTS Act and the Prevent duty because it may silence or even ‘criminalise’ dissent.[19] This may have already happened: an event on Islamophobia at Birkbeck was cancelled after a meeting between the Islamic Human Rights Commission and the university, at which a ‘local council PREVENT officer [was] in attendance’,[20] and more recently, a play on radicalisation at the UCL Academy in northwest London was cancelled. The police had asked the writers to provide a script ahead of time and the National Youth Theatre cancelled the event.[21] We do not have hard evidence that this second cancellation was due to intervention under Prevent duty auspices. However, these disruptions suggest that public authorities will now take a risk-averse approach when it comes to dealing with radicalisation and extremism. It seems to be likely that local authorities, boroughs, schools, universities, and the NHS will take a ‘better-safe-than-sorry’ approach to Prevent duty compliance. We can expect local authorities to err on the side of disrupting dissenting voices due to fears that they may be ‘extremists’ by the Home Office’s narrow definition.

the outlook for democratic participation and accountability in counter-terrorism is grim

In our report, we detail how changes in the 2011 Prevent strategy affected Prevent delivery in Tower Hamlets. We found that community-led projects were discontinued, replaced with a slew of projects on risk mitigation, including centralised training provision, police-led ‘disruption’ of those defined as ‘extremists’, funding to support referrals to specified ‘theological intervention’ providers and the prioritisation of Channel referrals.[22] It is too early to know how the CTS Act 2015 and the Prevent duty will be implemented as local authorities are still coming to grips with their new responsibilities. Given that the structure of the strategy so far emphasizes a risk management approach, the outlook for democratic participation and accountability in counter-terrorism is grim at best.

The Prevent strategy continues to be flawed in its latest iteration. It is also now enshrined in law. It disseminates centralised power and the responsibility to counter extremism through key documents like the CTLP down to everyday, frontline staff of public authorities: nurses, teachers, social workers, the employees of local authorities, professors, and doctors. It becomes a daily task to police others’ values and ideologies. This diffusion of the Prevent duty potentially makes our local authorities risk averse and may in fact collapse the healthy public sphere necessary to challenge extremism and political violence in its myriad forms.


Bharath Ganesh is responsible for research at Tell MAMA, a project of Faith Matters. His work focuses on anti-Muslim hate crime and policy in addition to counter-terrorism policy. Bharath is also a PhD candidate in Geography at University College London, focusing on geopolitics, popular culture, and identity.


Citation

To cite this article, use the following: Ganesh, Bharath (2015) ‘The Prevent Duty and its government-centred context’, Public Spirit (October 2015:  http://www.publicspirit.org.uk/the-prevent-duty-and-its-government-centred-context/)


References

[1] See for example, comments made by Shami Chakrabarti and David Anderson QC in House of Commons, ‘Oral evidence: Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, HC 838’. Home Affairs Committee, 3 December 2014. [Available at http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/counterterrorism-and-security-bill/oral/16038.pdf].

[2] See Schedule 6 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 for details on specified authorities.

[3] See Part 5, Chapter 1, Clause 26, Subsection 1 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.

[4] As regards education, see ‘Counter-terrorism and security bill is a threat to freedom of speech at universities’, The Guardian, 2 February 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/feb/02/counter-terrorism-security-bill-threat-freedom-of-speech-universities [accessed 09/17/2015] and Tufft, Ben, ‘Nursery staff to be forced to report toddlers at risk of becoming terrorists’, The Independent, 4 January 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/nursery-staff-to-be-forced-to-report-toddlers-at-risk-of-becoming-terrorists-9956414.html, [accessed 09/17/2015].

[5] Kundnani, Arun, Spooked: How not to prevent violent extremism (London: Institute of Race Relations, 2009).

[6] Awan, Imran, ‘“I Am a Muslim Not an Extremist”: How the Prevent Strategy Has Constructed a “Suspect” Community’, Politics & Policy 40, no. 6 (2012): 1158-1185 and Thomas, Paul, ‘Between Two Stools? The Government’s “Preventing Violent Extremism” Agenda’, The Political Quarterly 80, no. 2 (2009): 282-291.

[7] Ganesh, Bharath, Implementing Prevent: from a community-led to a government centred approach, (London: Faith Matters, 2015).

[8] This trend has been observed by a number of researchers. For example, see O’Toole, Therese, DeHanas, Daniel, and Modood, Tariq, ‘Balancing tolerance, security and Muslim engagement in the United Kingdom: the impact of the “Prevent” agenda’, Critical Studies on Terrorism 5, no. 3 (2012): 373-389, and Vermeulen, Floris, ‘Suspect communities—Targeting Violent Extremism at the Local Level: Policies of Engagement in Amsterdam, Berlin, and London’, Terrorism and Political Violence 26, no. 2 (2014): 286-306.

[9] HM Government, Counter-Terrorism Local Profiles, (London: Home Office, 2012), 29.

[10] HM Government, Prevent Duty Guidance: for England and Wales, (London: Home Office, 2015), 3.

[11] ibid., 3.

[12] ibid., 6.

[13] BBC News, ‘New Laws to target radicalisation’, BBC News, 13 May 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32714802, [accessed 09/17/2015].

[14] For a review of this debate in the context of the Prevent strategy, see Ganesh, Bharath, Implementing Prevent: from a community-led to a government-centred approach, (London: Faith Matters), 8-13.

[15] HM Government, Prevent Strategy, (London: The Stationery Office, 2011), 108.

[16] ibid., 53.

[17] Sommerlad, Nick, ‘Nearly 100 new British extremists reported to authorities every WEEK’, Daily Mirror, 28 August 2015, http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/nearly-100-new-british-extremists-6341833, [accessed 09/17/2015].

[18] These are two intervention providers that are known to have provided deradicalisation services. Details on the Active Change Foundation can be found at www.activechangefoundation.org/. London Tigers are mentioned in the 2014-2015 Tower Hamlets Prevent Action Plan (in Ganesh 2015, 18, cited below and Tower Hamlets FOI Response no. 11218).

[19] Kundnani, Arun, ‘Will the government’s counter-extremism programme criminalise dissent?’, Institute of Race Relations, 18 June 2015, http://www.irr.org.uk/news/will-the-governments-counter-extremism-programme-criminalise-dissent/ [accessed 09/17/2015]. See also Mills, Tom et. al., ‘The Five Pillars of Islamophobia’, Understanding and explaining terrorism: Expertise in practice, 15 June 2015, http://terrorismexpertise.net/weblog/2015/06/15/five-pillars-islamophobia/, [accessed 09/17/2015] and Weber, Frances, ‘Farewell Magna Carta’, OurKingdom, 19 January 2015, https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/frances-webber/farewell-magna-carta-counterterrorism-and-security-bill, [accessed 09/17/2015].

[20] IHRC, ‘The New Prevent: Birkbeck and the Future of Universities’, IHRC, 12 December 2014, http://www.ihrc.org.uk/activities/press-releases/11302-press-release-birkbeck-college-buckles-to-far-right-cancels-islamophobia-conference-booking, [accessed 09/17/2015].

[21] Ellis-Peterson, Hannah, ‘Radicalisation play cancelled by theatre after concerns about “extremist agenda”’, The Guardian, 4 September 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2015/sep/04/islamism-play-withdrawn-by-national-youth-theatre, [accessed 09/17/2015].

[22] Ganesh, Bharath, Implementing Prevent: from a community-led to a government centred approach, (London: Faith Matters, 2015), 20.

2 Responses to “The Prevent duty and its government-centred context”

  1. Confronting PREVENT » Salaam.co.uk | Muslims in Britain

    […] Bharath Ganesh, 12th October 2015 : Part 5 of the CTS Act makes the Prevent strategy statutory, enshrined in legislation. In Part 5 of the CTS Act, the foundations of a highly centralised, top-down Prevent apparatus come to light. Prevent, now updated for 2015, eschews community engagement for centralised control. The Prevent duty and its government-centred context, click here. […]

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