Sector to be enlistedin war on terror
Housing officers are to be charged with helping the police root out violent extremism in communities – sparking concerns that frontline workers could be put at risk.
Communities secretary Ruth Kelly is to announce later this month that a £5 million package will be distributed among 50 local authorities to help council staff police their areas.
Housing officers will be among those expected to gather information about extremist behaviour and share it with other agencies, including the police.
A Communities and Local Government department spokesperson said: ‘Housing associations and resident
groups would also have a role to play through their understanding of their local communities.
‘They can work in partnership with other agencies and can, for example, help local authorities by sharing good practice and local information.'
Councils will also be asked to expand the number of forums on extremism and Islamophobia, which already exist in Blackburn, Dudley, Leicester and Redbridge. (Inside Housing, 5 January 2007).
But trade union Unison said that Ms Kelly's plan could endanger frontline staff. ‘We support community cohesion and many of our members in frontline jobs work hard to develop that and community links,' a spokesperson said.
‘Asking them to become the eyes and ears of the police is not our idea of how community cohesion should be developed.' Local authorities needed to ensure that proper safeguards were in place to protect staff, she added.
Ted Cantle, a professor at the Institute of Community Cohesion who led a review into the race riots in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford in 2001, said that care should be taken to ensure that not only Muslims were
‘The concern is, if it's just focusing on Muslim extremism, there's a danger that communities will feel unfairly targeted.' Mushtaq Khan, interim head of housing strategy at Oldham Council, said that it was important to share information with tenants.
‘A lot of extremism is based on rumour and innuendo,' he said.
‘It is fuelled in very poor communities fighting for poor funding and people thinking others have got something when they don't. We are trying to communicate to stop that happening – myth busting. It would be good if we could use the money for that.'
Martin Sample, head of housing at housing association Calico in Burnley, said that it had already started information-sharing schemes.
‘We are aware this whole town has had problems. It had a poor image and we have been working really hard over the past five years to improve it.
‘Each [scheme] has elements of sharing information. But it is more a sharing of a vision – buying into a concept of an integrated society.'
Burnley was pinpointed as one of 10 potential hotspots in a letter from Gurbux Singh, former chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, weeks after the 2001 riots.