Luton marked as a 'priority area' in government's anti-extremism programme for 11th year
Luton is being treated as a priority area in the government's anti-extremism 'Prevent' programme for the 11th year in a row, a meeting heard.
"Individuals are accessing websites, forums and unregulated spaces online," said the council's Prevent coordinator, Sarah Pinnock.
"We're still seen as a priority area for 2021/22, which we've been since the inception of the Prevent programme," she told the annual scrutiny crime and disorder committee meeting.
"Covid has had an impact on the number of people we can access and reach in tackling the causes of radicalisation.
"The second main area of focus is the work around the Channel programme, which leads a lot of our safeguarding interventions.
"We've moved with the guidance from the Home Office to deliver some of those interventions face-to-face.
"Schools have responded really well in a fluctuating environment," she added.
"One of the issues is that baseline understanding of where radicalisation is occurring, and why in some quarters and not others.
"We also want to build that resilience in our schools sector and our communities, while ensuring the work being done is still relevant and challenging."
Labour Round Green councillor Tahmina Saleem said: "It's the 11th year we've been a priority Prevent area and it's the only funded area in the eastern region.
"There seems to be quite an increase in referrals, which could be that people are more effective in reporting.
"But the largest increase is in right wing extremism. Is that reflected in Luton, as well?" she asked.
Ms Pinnock replied: "The increase in right wing referrals isn't the main issue. We're seeing a rise in referrals generally.
"We want to get beyond the statistics which are always going to be backwards looking."
Liberal Democrat Barnfield councillor David Franks said: "Ever since the Prevent programme was first invented, it's had an unhealthy concentration on Islam.
"This has been to such an extent that the danger from extreme right wing political groups hasn't had the attention it should have.
"It's leading to an increase in hate crimes. To what extent is the rise of this being taken seriously in Luton?" he asked.
Ms Pinnock said: "Within our programme we take it seriously. We've upped our input into that space.
"There's been a lag in understanding about how that has manifested itself."
Councillor Saleem added: "I don't think Islam as a religion was ever in the dock. I understand it was the ideology.
"Those who were being groomed by Jihadists were self-presenting as Muslims.
"We want to protect our young people from all sorts of grooming and extremism."