A few weeks ago I wrote for Coffee House welcoming the Government’s decision to scrap Prevent grants administered by local authorities. In that article, I cautioned that scrapping something should actually mean scrapping it, not just moving resources around. Today, the TaxPayers’ Alliance has released research showing that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) also distribute funds through Prevent. Again, money has gone to projects of questionable value in the fight against extremism, violent or non-violent.
One of the more dubious projects was a “mobile cinema for justice”. What’s worse is that it was administered by an American charity called the International Research and Exchanges Board. Why is that bad? Because they have a £38 million budget of their own, and the Foreign Office felt compelled to give them £22,000 for a project that – let’s face it – most taxpayers would find laughable.
Well-funded public bodies also received money from the FCO. The British Council – recipients of £200 million in grant in aid in 08/09 – received almost £1 million more to carry out Prevent projects in the same year. The BBC’s well stacked coffers surely didn’t need a top-up of £200,000 to carry out a media project for the FCO, did they? Well, they got it, for a “Woman’s Hour” project in Afghanistan. You can debate the merit of such a project but the BBC World Service are funded by the FCO – if this programme was such a good idea then it could have been supported from existing budgets.
When we released our study on local government Prevent grants it was the first time that a full survey had been completed of where the grants had gone, and the list was comprehensive. However, the FCO chose to redact some information when requested a list of their grants, and that might seem reasonable as adverse effects on defence and international relations are two of the four grounds on which they chose to hold back information. These kinds of exemptions are understandable if national security is likely to be affected, but Prevent is supposed to stop people from becoming terrorists in the first place with projects that are aimed at the grassroots and at communities. The BBC grant supported a television programme, how secret could it be? Our request for information did not seek to uncover the details of delicate intelligence operations. The result of the FCO refusing to answer our request fully is that taxpayers have little idea of where their money is going.
All in all, the Prevent scheme is one that has proved divisive, simultaneously frustrating and alienating different faith groups and entire communities. It should be scrapped immediately. Both the Home Office and DCLG believe that Prevent is “flawed, ineffective and counter-productive” and hopefully the FCO will come to the same view too.
John O’Connell is Deputy Research Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance