Interfaith group set to close after funding stopped

1 month ago 29

The Communities Secretary, Michael Gove, said funding the organisation 'posed a reputational risk to the government'Image source, PA Media

Image caption,

The Communities Secretary, Michael Gove, said funding the organisation 'posed a reputational risk to the government'

By Aleem Maqbool

Religion editor, BBC News

A British charity set up nearly 40 years ago to improve understanding between faith groups is set to close on Thursday after the government cut off funding.

Last month, Communities Secretary Michael Gove said he was "minded to withdraw" funding for the Inter Faith Network (IFN) after the appointment of Hassan Joudi, a former deputy secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), as a trustee.

The government has made no specific allegations against Mr Joudi other than his association with the MCB - a group the government refuses to engage with.

Mr Joudi has not commented on the government's decision.

Now, despite protests from the charity and others who have benefitted from its work, a spokesperson for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has confirmed the decision.

"The government has held a consistent policy of non-engagement with the Muslim Council of Britain," a spokesperson told the BBC.

"Last year, an MCB member was appointed to the core governance structure of the Inter Faith Network. As a result, the government has decided to withdraw the offer of new funding."

The IFN says its board members will meet on Thursday afternoon with "little option" but to close the charity with immediate effect in order not to renege on current financial commitments. The government funding was worth about £150,000.

The MCB is a broad representative body of British Muslims, with membership from more than 500 mosques, Muslim schools and charities.

In 2009, the Labour government broke ties with the MCB over accusations its leaders supported violence against Israel. Though the charity's leadership has since changed, the current government has also refused to engage with it.

"This has come completely out of the blue," says Rev Canon Hilary Barber, co-chair of the Inter Faith Network.

"To my knowledge there have never been any conditions around funding to do with membership and trustees who sit on the board," he adds.

Rev Barber, who is also Vicar of Halifax Minster, says the IFN has taken its responsibilities seriously when it comes to checking the credentials of trustees.

"We're a charitable trust, so the Charity Commission sets out very clear guidelines which the IFN has very carefully followed. The success of the network for nearly 40 years is in the way it has been run which has been absolutely meticulous."

The IFN says its closure would have an impact on many long-standing projects up and down the country, designed to promote understanding about and between different faith groups and to encourage cooperation.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

The General Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, Zara Mohammed, says the government's decision came as a shock

"When there is a real need for cohesion and for bringing people together, to withdraw funding for the Inter Faith Network for the reasons given is a shock," said Zara Mohammed, general secretary of the MCB.

"We have yet to receive a reason as to why the government doesn't want to engage at this point in time," Ms Mohammed added.

While the IFN also raises funds through membership and donations, for more than 20 years it has grown through its partnership with the government. But Michael Gove's department has advised that it looks for funds elsewhere.

"The Inter Faith Network cannot rely on continuous taxpayer funding," a DLUHC spokesperson said. "We regularly remind our partners, including the IFN, of the importance of developing sustainable funding arrangements - rather than relying on taxpayers' money, which can never be guaranteed."

Additional reporting by Sara Monetta

Read Entire Article