Ministers accused of wasting £86million on 'gravy train' scheme to fight extremism


Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has defended an £86 million Government scheme to tackle violent extremism amid claims that the cash is being wasted on ineffective projects.

The Preventing Violent Extremism fund launched by Ms Blears' predecessor Ruth Kelly in 2007 gives local authorities the power to decide how to allocate cash to projects designed to steer young people away from radicalisation by militant groups.

Its first year saw £6 million spent on 'pathfinder' trial schemes, with a further £80 million available over the next three years.

A BBC investigation has revealed that grants of up to £30,000 were distributed by Birmingham City Council for projects such as a photographic exhibition of positive images of the city's Muslims.

One recipient of funding totalling £7,000 said she did not feel the work she did was an effective use of the money.

A councillor from the Respect party claimed that the money was handed out to organisations with links to the council without sufficient consultation.
Councillor Salma Yagoob told Radio 4s Today programme: 'It seems to me that the Preventing Violent Extremism agenda is being used as a gravy train for those willing to the toe the Government line, regardless of effectiveness on the ground.'

But Councillor Alan Rudge, who is in charge of PVE money for Birmingham, insisted there had been wide consultation on how best to spend the cash in areas such as work with young people and women, the media and Islamic groups.

A woman giving her name only as Shameen who received £7,000 from the fund told Today: 'I did feel at the time that the amount of money I was being offered was rather large for the kind of work and it made me concerned about who gets the money and how they were checking these funds were going to be effectively used.
'
Ms Blears acknowledged that the first year of a project dealing with complex and sensitive issues was bound to involve some experimentation, but she insisted that most schemes funded under PVE were effective.

She highlighted a school drama project involving a play called One Extreme to Another which encouraged young people to consider the issues around radicalisation.

Ms Blears told BBC's Today: 'We have got to say to people "There is extremism out there. We need a security response, but that is not enough. We need to empower you, particularly as young people, to fight back against it."

'That's complex and difficult but it can be done.

'It is a generational challenge. It is going to be with us for quite some time. We have got to try to get to that next generation of youngsters coming up and say "We want to strengthen your identity, we want you to feel very much part of Britain and the shared values we have about inclusion and respect for each other".

Ms Blears said: 'Part of it is about role models. Where we have young people growing up who don't feel they fit in... then trying to reinforce those young people's ability to be part of mainstream society may well mean not just exhibitions, but role models they can relate to and also in-depth discussions with them about some very sensitive issues.
'
'What I want to do is strengthen the mainstream moderate Muslims in this country, who are the overwhelming majority, but also those vulnerable youngsters so they have the ability to say "You are extreme. Your version of my faith is not correct. I don't want to be part of that".'

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