John Oconnell

Prevent, a well intentioned but divisive scheme, is scrapped 

Prevent, a well intentioned but divisive scheme, is scrapped 
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Earlier this week, the government announced that they are to abolish the Prevent Violent Extremism (PVE) grants. Prevent is part of the broader 'Contest' programme which was established after the London bombings of 2005. The idea behind Prevent is to address the root causes of extremism by encouraging community cohesion, thereby stopping people from being influenced by violent extremists. But in September last year we published research that showed exactly how local authorities spent the money given to them by central government. It was a ground breaking study: Paul Goodman - in his previous role as a MP for Wycombe - asked the Department for Communities and Local Government for a breakdown of this spending in Parliament but was unable to get an answer. Our paper was the first time that PVE spending was collated - and the results were less than impressive, so we said it should be scrapped.

There are a whole host of reasons why this misguided scheme was nothing more than a costly experiment that was never likely to work out. For one, there were significant worries - as outlined by Ed Husain on the Guardian website and Alexander Hitchens on the Standpoint website after our report was released - that some authorities inadvertently gave money to groups with links to extremist organisations. When the Communities and Local Government select committee were taking evidence for their review on PVE last year, it was suggested at the oral evidence sessions that many Muslim groups felt the Prevent strategy singled them out, branding them as potential violent extremists when they are anything but. By extension, some wondered why an anti-extremism fund did not really focus on any other groups or tackle extremism from any other part of society. Other faith groups felt hard done by that Muslim groups were given cash, while they struggled to raise funds themselves. There was a real sense that PVE grants undermined community cohesion rather than strengthened it.

Naturally, the TaxPayers' Alliance welcomes the news that the Government have taken up our recommendation to scrap this scheme. It was well-intentioned but hugely flawed. But here we must sound a note of caution too. It's crucial that the government does not simply move the money around; all too often we see that when organisations or schemes are supposedly scrapped, their functions and funding are simply transferred somewhere else. It's akin to the coalition's position with Regional Development Agencies - it was announced in the budget that they would be scrapped but will they simply be re-branded? Will Advantage West Midlands morph into the West Midlands Enterprise Partnership, with the same lumbering bureaucratic structure and attempts to help business by taking their money in taxes and giving it back to some in grants? This should not be allowed to happen with Prevent grants (nor RDAs, for that matter). Giving the scheme a different name or moving the money to a different department means the misuse of taxpayers' money will continue. If the Government think PVE grants are not a good idea, then they should simply stop giving them out.

John O'Connell is Deputy Research Director at The TaxPayers' Alliance