British counter-terrorism strategy comes under fire

The government's counter terrorism strategy is immature, lacks accountability and is disconnected, according to a memo prepared by the Number 10 delivery unit and leaked at the weekend.

The critique - prepared for a meeting at Number 10 - suggests the government may need to appoint a new minister in the Cabinet Office responsible for counter-terrorism.

Counter-terrorism is the responsibility of the Home Office minister Hazel Blears, who is responsible for crime, police and anti-social behaviour. Formal responsibility for counter terrorism strategy is run through a cabinet sub-committee on protective security and resilience chaired by the home secretary Charles Clarke, and attended by senior intelligence chiefs.

The comments came as police arrested a 27-year-old man from Dewsbury in West Yorkshire in connection with the July 7 bomb attacks on London. He was held under the Terrorism Act 2000.

The paper takes the form of a critique of Project Contest, the code name for the government's overall counter terrorism strategy. It is designed to tie together all four significant aspects of Britain's war on terror, preparedness, prevention, pursuit, and protection.

Some Labour MPs are preparing to rebel this week over the government's terrorism bill when it has its second reading in the Commons on Wednesday. Opposition is coalescing on the need for more judicial oversight over plans for suspected terrorists to be detained without charge for three months, a request tabled by the police, but hotly opposed by the Liberal Democrats and civil liberty groups.

Project Contest's purpose was set out by Sir Andrew Turnbull, the then cabinet secretary, in a letter to permanent secretaries in April last year. He wrote: "The aim is to prevent terrorism by tackling its causes ... to diminish support for terrorists by influencing social and economic issues."

Reflecting the mood inside the civil service, the delivery unit review of Project Contest says there is little effective coordination across government. The review concludes: "The strategy is immature. Forward planning is disjointed, or has yet to occur. Accountability for delivery is weak and real work impact is seldom measured."

A survey of senior civil servants suggests the counter terrorism strategy so far has largely been a series of talking shops, The Guardian reports.

Photo: the AP