Page last updated at 23:13 GMT, Sunday, 11 May 2008 00:13 UK

Call for focus on ethnic tensions

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

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Councils are being advised to fully understand their local populations

Councils must work harder to target "hot spots" caused by rising migration and diversity, the government will say.

The Department for Communities, which will launch guidance on monitoring local tensions, says more work needs to be done to prevent local disturbances.

The guidance comes a year after a major report urged ministers to do more to improve community cohesion.

Some experts have already called on councils to set up early warning systems to prevent race riot repeats.

'Counter scaremongering'

Last summer the Commission on Integration and Cohesion said areas that had never before experienced change caused by new immigration were on a frontline of tensions between different communities.

That warning is partly borne out by official figures which have measured how people from different backgrounds get on with each other.

Things can be done to address problems at the earliest opportunity and stop things escalating
Hazel Blears, communities secretary

Some areas which have recently experienced rapid immigration-led changes score lowest, although the national picture is generally more positive.

The Department for Communities and Local Government, responsible for integration, is publishing guidance which it says will help councils act before it is too late.

It calls on local officials to plan against tensions by:

  • Properly understanding who is living in the local area
  • Working with a wider range of people to better monitor local trends
  • Making better use of local intelligence, including warning signs from community workers
  • Learning how to counter rumours of scaremongering which lead to violent clashes

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears 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."

Last year Professor Ted Cantle, a senior government advisor on community cohesion, said the UK needed an "early warning" network to predict and prevent racial tensions and disturbances.

He said some recent clashes could have been avoided if councils had worked out how to pick up on signs of potential trouble.

However, local authorities in some areas at the forefront of the Eastern European migration boom have attacked the government - they say this work is being hampered by the lack of official information on demographic patterns.

These councils say their job has become harder as people struggle to understand how or why their communities are changing.

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