The current threat level to the UK from international terrorism is severe. The most significant international terrorism threat to the UK remains violent extremism associated with and influenced by Al-Qa'ida.
The Prevent strategy, launched in 2007 seeks to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism both in the UK and overseas. It is the preventative strand of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST.
The government has been clear that the continued existence of a preventative strand of CONTEST is not in question. However, we believe that the current Prevent strategy is not as effective as it could be and we are committed to reviewing it.
We have agreed the broad parameters for a revised Prevent strategy and are now seeking the views and recommendations of delivery partners, opinion formers, locally and nationally elected representatives and members of the public. There will also be some consultation overseas.
This review is a valuable opportunity for us to test these parameters with a wide range of partners. It is also an opportunity for those partners to examine our assumptions, offer new ideas for how the new parameters might be delivered in practice and contribute to the development of a revised Prevent strategy.
What is changing?
We have agreed that the following areas of the existing Prevent strategy require review:
- we want to more clearly separate work on preventing violent extremism from work to promote integration. The former will be led by the Home Office and the latter by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). As part of its work on integration, DCLG will also be coordinating work across Government to address the challenges we face from non-violent extremism
- we want to consider whether the Prevent strategy should address all forms of violent extremism, recognising that the risks to national security from groups associated with or influenced by Al-Qa'ida are greater than the risks from others
- we believe Prevent needs to be more focused in specific areas and sectors where propagandists for terrorism are known to be operating
- we want to strike the right balance between decision-making, prioritisation and accountability at local and national levels, recognising the need for local flexibility while mindful of the need to manage risks to national security
- we will be assessing whether promoting community resilience and addressing grievances should be part of our counter-terrorism strategy, or whether they should be led and delivered within other Government policies
- we will consider how activity on Prevent in the UK can be more seamlessly joined up with Prevent activity overseas
- finally, we will also be looking closely at how we monitor and evaluate Prevent to ensure that it offers value-for-money.
What is staying?
The revised Prevent strategy will continue to address the most significant security risk that we face: the risk from international terrorism. The heart of Prevent – targeted, local work to support people who are most vulnerable to radicalisation and to disrupt propagandists for terrorism – will also remain. There will continue to be an overseas element to the strategy.
The existing Prevent strategy
The existing strategy is based on an assessment of the drivers of radicalisation in the UK informed by a growing amount of intelligence from a variety of Government sources and from open academic research. The strategy identified five causes of radicalisation in this country:
- an ideology associated with Al-Qa'ida (though predating it) which purported to justify terrorism
- radicalisers and propagandists in the UK and overseas who young people found compelling and credible and who applied the ideology in a local context
- a group of people vulnerable to extremist messages for a range of personal reasons, including a low sense of belonging in this country, uncertainty about identity and under achievement
- lack of resilience to and in some cases, tacit support for violence in vulnerable communities
- grievances, regarding both international and local issues (e.g. the experience of racism and perceived inequalities)
The strategy to date
The Prevent strategy of the last government was designed to address the causes, or drivers, of radicalisation at a variety of stages. The strategic objectives were designed to:
- challenge the ideology behind violent extremism through targeted communications and work with credible religious authorities both in the UK and overseas to counter the extremist narrative
- disrupt the activities of those who seek to recruit vulnerable people
- provide interventions to support vulnerable people, largely concentrated in high priority, high risk geographical areas as well as within specific sectors, such as prisons and higher education
- build community resilience primarily through work at a local level but also including initiatives to build community capacity, such as the support of national bodies and the establishing of best practice guidance for mosques
- address wider grievances including work in the UK and overseas.
Locally, local authorities, the police and community organisations have taken the lead in developing and jointly managing a local programme of action that met the objectives of the strategy, was proportionate to the level of threat in the area and reflected the local context. Nationally, key departments were tasked to oversee and coordinate delivery of Prevent, delivering training and guidance and establishing best practice. Internationally, programmes were developed to challenge extremist ideology overseas, complemented by work to build community resilience and address grievances which might drive support for violent extremism.
Prevent is a relatively new programme, delivering sensitive and often difficult objectives. There have been significant challenges. Although a broad consensus on the nature and the scale of the threat has been established it has not always been clear what the appropriate policy response should be or whether and at what stage the government should intervene.
At the local level, Prevent resources have sometimes been used to fund other areas of work, including race equality, multiculturalism and cohesion. Activity in these areas, while often useful in itself, has not always addressed Prevent objectives and has led to accusations that the government’s interest in Muslim communities is related only to the risk of terrorism.
At the end of the review period, all responses to the review process will be collated and analysed by the Home Office. A revised Prevent strategy will be published in 2011, accompanied by a report recording the findings of the review.