Sep 2009 09

There have been a number of interesting responses to our report on the Prevent strategy, released yesterday.  This is exactly the kind of debate that we were hoping to start by revealing how Prevent money has been spent - hopefully experts will continue to look into the groups and we can build up a really detailed picture of how the scheme has performed.

Ed Husain, author of The Islamist and co-director of the Quilliam Foundation, wrote for the Guardian's Comment is Free website that:

"The Taxpayers' Alliance's new report on the government's Prevent programmes sheds much-needed light on the cost and effectiveness of the government's counter-terrorism strategy. At first reading of the report, it seems that many Muslim groups are receiving money merely for not being extreme, rather than for actively doing or saying anything to challenge and roll back extremism. This is clearly wrong.

Most importantly, however, the report also reveals that many groups that have received handsome grants of taxpayers' funds are groups whose leading members include supporters of hardcore Islamist ideologies. Such organisations include the Islamic Society of Britain (with some exceptions), the UK Islamic Mission, the Islamic Foundation, the London Muslim Centre and Da'watul Islam."

He disagrees with the idea of scrapping the scheme but does believe that it needs significant reform:

"I disagree, however, with Matthew Sinclair's suggestion that we should abolish the Prevent strand altogether. For me, this is the most important part of the government's counter-terrorism strategy: ending the ready supply of extremists who can be convinced to commit future terrorist outrages. Yes, Prevent has gone terribly wrong in many parts, but reforming it, even renaming it, giving it a sharper focus to win the battle of ideas, is the best way forward."

We remain of the opinion that the strategy of giving grants through councils, when even central government has failed to find reliable partner community groups, is unrealistic.  However, there is no doubt that a reformed Prevent scheme would be an improvement on the current situation.  Hopefully, reform and the kind of transparency and scrutiny that we have provided with our report will mean less money supports the wrong groups.

Alexander Hitchens writes, for the Standpoint blog and Harry's Place, that:

"The Tax Payer’s Alliance (TPA) has released figures (pdf) today on every local authority that has received Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) funding and what organisations have benefitted from it.  The PVE fund has so far given out £12 million in tax payer money to projects aimed at preventing radicalisation.

One organisation, the Muslim Welfare House (MWH), has received just under £50,000 in PVE funds over the last two years.  The MWH is a member of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE), which represents the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Europe."

The Engage website is more critical of some aspects of our analysis, but does note the importance of the report in scrutinising Prevent:

"The [TPA] extensively documents organisations and projects that have been recipients of these public funds. The detailed list will raise further questions over the delivery of Prevent and the widespread criticism of funds being channelled into projects without due diligence, oversight or assessment.

The fact that information gathering was itself an arduous process, with [TPA] making several FOI requests nationally and locally, is a further indictment of the poor oversight mechanisms in place."

Some of their criticisms of our analysis are a bit suspect.  First, they assert that:

"The MCB didn’t attend HMD this past year in protest of the war in Gaza and not for reasons of a boycott."

Let's take a look at the definition of the word "boycott":

"To abstain from or act together in abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with as an expression of protest or disfavor or as a means of coercion."

So they have abstained from going to Holocaust Memorial day as an expression of protest, about the war in Gaza.  If that isn't a boycott, it's hard to know what is.

Next, they argue that:

"What funds certain MCB affiliates receive under Prevent is a matter for those affiliates, it’s hardly cause for Sinclair to malign the reputation of the MCB."

The MCB can't be a representative body when they're claiming credibility to speak for a wide range of community groups and then disavow all knowledge of their affiliates when it suits them.  Their "About MCB" page is quite clear on the matter, its very first sentence says:

"The Muslim Council of Britain is a national representative Muslim umbrella body with over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organisations, mosques, charities and schools."

We would welcome greater clarity over, for example, whether the MCB's affiliates agree with the policy of boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day.

Finally, they say:

"It [is] odd that the Taxpayer's Alliance seems to have singled out Muslim organisations for receiving these funds."

We aren't the ones singling out Muslim organisations, the Government is; that's the point of Prevent.  In the words of the Communities and Local Government department, Prevent is "a new action plan to step-up work with Muslim communities to isolate, prevent and defeat violent extremism".

Hopefully, we will see more organisations following up on this report in the days to come.

Matthew was the Chief Executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, author of Let Them Eat Carbon and editor of How to Cut Public Spending (and still win an election)