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Local authorities are not MI5, warns LGA

Councils should not be treated as a replacement for the security services and police, the LGA has warned.

The comments come in response to the government’s publication of the updated counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST.

A review of the strategy was prompted last year after terror attacks in London and Manchester.

Central to the new strategy is a working partnership at international, national and local level, between the government, agencies, the private sector and communities.

Delivering his first keynote speech on security, home secretary Sajid Javid told an audience of community leaders, academics and counter-terrorism experts that his first priority will always be to keep the country safe, calling the threat from terrorism “one of the starkest we face.”

He explained: “As the threat evolves so must our response. Ultimately, our approach is about ensuring that there are no safe spaces for terrorists to operate – internationally, in the UK or online.”

New legislation will underpin the counter-terrorism strategy to enable the police and security services to disrupt terrorist threats earlier, which will see existing terrorism offences updated for the digital age and to reflect contemporary patterns of radicalisation.

It will also see the sentencing framework for terrorism strengthened, increasing the maximum penalty for certain offences so that the punishment reflects the crime and better prevents reoffending, as well as enabling further terror offences committed overseas to be prosecuted in UK courts.

In response to the recommendations of MI5 and the counter-terrorism police’s Operational Improvement Review into the 2017 terror attacks, overseen by David Anderson, new multi-agency approaches will involve MI5 and the police using and sharing information more widely and working with partners such as local authorities to improve the understanding of those at risk of involvement in terrorism.

Through Prevent, the government, local authorities, police and communities will continue to safeguard and support vulnerable people from the risk of being drawn into terrorism.

However, Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board, warned that the responsibility of preventing terrorism should remain with the police and security services.

“Councils are committed to safeguarding communities by tackling extremism and already look for tell-tale signs of people at risk of radicalisation and work with the police and other agencies to protect people,” he said.

He said that while the engagement of local authorities with society and working with community groups helps to reduce the risk of young people being radicalised, it is extremely complex and more detail on the CONTEST initiative is needed.

“Information sharing could be a positive step, but what is crucial is that councils are not treated as a replacement for the expertise and resources of the security services and police. Local authorities are not MI5 and it’s essential that the police and security services lead on responding to and acting on any threats.

“We will continue to engage with government to ensure residents are kept safe and that local authorities can play their role in supporting and protecting communities,” he added.

Blackburn also called for proper long-term funding for councils to tackle radicalisation.

Top image: JohnnyGreig


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