Andy Burnham pledges to replace Prevent strategy in Manchester

New scheme must command confidence of region’s Muslim communities, says Greater Manchester mayor

The much-criticised Prevent programme is to be replaced in Greater Manchester as part of a broad review of the region’s counter-terror strategy in the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said the deradicalisation scheme had achieved some success but was “too top-down”. He said: “Prevent, as it’s currently configured, will only take you so far. There has been a feeling of disengagement because of the way it goes about its work. We’re saying that can’t be allowed to carry on. It will only succeed if there’s true community buy-in at grassroots level, and the information comes that way.”

The programme is to be reviewed and replaced by a “distinctive” Greater Manchester approach that commands the confidence of the region’s Muslim communities, the former Labour MP said.

It came as Burnham announced an independent review in the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing, which killed 22 people and injured more than 250 others on 22 May. The wide-ranging review will examine the region’s “preparedness and response” to the terror attack and identify any lessons learned for the emergency services.

The review will begin in September and be led by an independent panel of experts. The panel will publish an interim report by the end of the year and a final report in 2018.

Speaking at the announcement of the review, Burnham said a “difficult conversation” was needed about rising extremism in Britain’s communities. “One of the most difficult aspects of this attack was the fact that the perpetrator grew up here,” he said. “In my view, tackling extremism has got to begin with families and communities. We all need to ask what more we can do to identify those that pose a risk to others.

“While the national Prevent programme has achieved some success, there is a feeling that it has become more and more top-down in recent years and has lost community buy-in. If it is to succeed, we need to restore that grassroots involvement.”

Burnham said a new commission would be established to tackle violent extremism and promote social cohesion in Greater Manchester. He said: “It’s about resetting Prevent, or making it work better, and for me it will only work if you’ve got that buy-in at a community grassroots level. That buy-in is lacking at the moment.”

The Prevent programme has long been described as “toxic” in some parts of Britain’s Muslim communities. It remains a core tenet of Theresa May’s counter-terror strategy and was expected to be expanded dramatically following the Manchester and London Bridge attacks.

Burnham said the new commission would be launched by Rishi Shori, the leader of Bury council, and Jean Stretton, the leader of Oldham council. Shori said the commission would review the Prevent strategy and other counter-extremism work in Greater Manchester and develop a “distinctive community-led GM approach” to challenging radicalisation, and report in early 2018.

Shori said: “We accept and acknowledge that some elements of the current Prevent strategy have been successful. But in some parts of the community, the way Prevent has been implemented has led to feelings of alienation which, of course, in the long term is counterproductive.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Everyone has a role to play in preventing terrorism. The Prevent Duty is ensuring that key bodies across the country, including local authorities, work together in partnership to tackle this important issue.

“Prevent is implemented in a proportionate manner that takes into account the local context and the level of risk in any given area.”

Contributor

Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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