A contingency plan including "community tension warnings" is to be introduced in Birmingham to try and prevent a repeat of violence such as the Lozells riots of 2005.
The initiative will involve the study of data including the number of complaints about noisy neighbours and reports of racially-aggravated violence, and warnings from local councillors to classify the level of tension as "high", "medium", or "low".
If tensions are high, the authority will try to calm the situation by sending mediators into an area to talk to community representatives. It could also encourage community leaders to issue a joint message of solidarity. The measures were set out in guidance issued yesterday by Hazel Blears, the Local Government Secretary. It follows riots in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford in 2001 and Lozells, Birmingham, in 2005.
IT worker Isaiah Young-Sam, aged 23, was stabbed to death during the Lozells disturbances, while Aaron James, aged 18, died after he was shot in the head.
The violence followed reports, which turned out to be untrue, that Asian men had raped a black schoolgirl.
A study commissioned by Birmingham City Council last year concluded that the violence may have been caused by a range of problems including the influence of drugs gangs, high levels of unemployment, overcrowding and tensions between ethnic groups.
The Government’s guidance asks councils to draw up a "community cohesion contingency plan", ready to be put into action when tensions are high. Councils are expected to appoint a senior official such as the chief executive as the person in charge.
Ms Blears said the measures did not suggest unrest was widespread across the UK. Government surveys found 81 per cent of people felt that individuals from different backgrounds got on well with each other in their local area, and 83 per cent agreed that people in their local area respected ethnic differences.
She 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.
"We have made £50 million available to local authorities to support them in responding to these specific challenges and placed a much greater focus on integration – including an end to automatic translation and more emphasis on English language learning, a move away from the funding of single groups and strengthening of our shared values."
MP Khalid Mahmood (Lab Perry Barr), whose constituency includes Lozells, said: "I welcome this guidance, but I think what Hazel is saying is what the council should be doing anyway.
"We need better engagement from the council with local police, local communities and local councillors, who have a pretty good understanding of what is going on in their patch."
The guidance sates that councils should form a multi-agency tension monitoring group, led by officials from the local authority or by police. It should include housing officials, headteachers or education officials, fire officers, probation workers, police community support officers and representatives from the voluntary, community and faith sectors.
Authorities should be ready to act when tension is high, or when there is a specific incident which could spark trouble, such as a terrorist attack, an incident of serious racially or religiously-motivated violence, or even conflict in foreign countries which could provoke strong feelings at home, the guidance says.
Measures they could take include speaking to faith leaders and asking them to call for calm.
Councillor Alan Rudge, cabinet member for equalities and human resources at Birmingham City Council, said: "We have always believed in strengthening our community cohesion across all areas of the city, and this follows on from the successful launch of our community cohesion strategy, which we have been delivering for the past 18 months.
"It is important that following the publication of this guidance that the Government spends the resources on front line services and does not get tied up in bureaucracy. We welcome any additional funding to build on the positive work we are already doing, and we are happy to share our successes with the Government and other authorities."