Town Halls Should Map Race and Religion to Identify ‘Tension Hotspots’, Says Hazel Blears

Steve Doughty, Daily Mail (London), May 12, 2008

More than 10 million people are to have their everyday disputes, their politics and their business lives checked by new “tension monitoring” committees.

The committees are to be set up to try to cut the risk of riots or disturbances in the aftermath of terrorist outrages or outbreaks of local racial trouble.

They will ask for and file reports on named troublemakers whose political activities are considered to be raising community tensions.

Reports on the behaviour and attitudes of local residents will be collected by community workers, neighbourhood wardens, local councillors and provided by voluntary organisations, according to a paper published by Communities Secretary Hazel Blears today.

It will then be considered by the monitoring committees run by town halls.

A sample “tension monitoring form” for use in checking on the likelihood of local racial or religious trouble asks for details of individuals considered to be making political trouble.

The monitoring committees will ask for information on those identified as troublemakers with includes “age, gender, ethnicity and faith” of those being reported on.

The call for monitoring of everyday life in the cause of “community cohesion contingency planning” was made by Mrs Blears in a paper aiming to help identify “tension hotspots” and improve cohesion—the Government’s buzzword for reducing racial and religious strife.

The word was adopted in 2006 after the once-dominating left-wing doctrine of multiculturalism was dropped by Labour because it made tensions worse rather than better.

But the establishment of monitoring committees in town halls is likely to generate new concerns about spying and surveillance by local councils.

Concerns have deepened in recent weeks after the Daily Mail revealed that Poole council in Dorset had spied on a family’s life for three weeks because it wrongly suspected the parents of abusing rules on school catchment areas.

There are also worries over the spread of new council quasi-police forces, like the bin police that recently gave a criminal record to a bus driver in Cumbria who left the lid of his family wheelie bin open by four inches.

Mrs Blears’ paper said that a recent survey by her department found that 81 per cent of the population feel that people from different backgrounds get on well in her area.

However, that means that nearly one in five people—more than 11 million—live in areas where the new tension monitoring committees will operate.

The Communities Secretary said: “The overwhelming majority of people in this country live successfully side by side but we cannot take this for granted.

“Challenges to cohesion do exist—this might be between different ethnic or faith groups or new migrants and longer-term residents—but things can be done to address problems at the earliest opportunity and stop things escalating.”

She said town halls would get an extra £50 million to help them set up and run the new tension monitoring committees, each of which will be run by a senior local authority official.

The committees will include representatives from housing authorities, schools, the NHS, the fire brigade, community workers and neighbourhood wardens in area which have them. Voluntary, community and faith groups will also be asked to provide information.

They will record “qualitative community intelligence” alongside reports of race incidents, gang and turf conflicts, disputes between neighbours, complaints about noise, and examples of low local trust, including low trust in politicians.

Economic activity, including business investment, and housing demand will also be monitored. So will political extremism.

The “sample tension monitoring form” provided by civil servants as a model for councils to follow in recording information calls for the name of the monitor and his or her organisation to be filed.

It asks for an assessment of whether levels of community tension are high, medium or low.

Under the heading “political” monitors are asked to provide “details of situation/incident (ie where, when, who (age, gender, ethnicity, faith), and what (useful to specify whether ‘experienced, evidence, or potential).”

Councils are told that under data protection law they are allowed to record details of individuals as long as the material is “fairly” gathered and stored.

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