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Closure looms for interfaith charity because of government concerns over Muslim trustee

16 February 2024

The Inter Faith Network (IFN) has not received the £155,000 it had been offered

Alamy

The Communities Secretary, Michael Gove, said that he was ‘minded’ to withdraw funding from the Inter Faith Network because of the ‘reputational risk’ to the Government

The Communities Secretary, Michael Gove, said that he was ‘minded’ to withdraw funding from the Inter Faith Network because of the ‘reputational risk’...

A CHARITY set up to promote interfaith dialogue is on the brink of closure, after the Communities Secretary, Michael Gove, said that he was “minded” to withdraw its funding because of the “reputational risk” to the Government and because a member of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was one of the charity’s trustees.

The Government does not engage with the MCB, after a former member appeared to condone attacks on the British navy in 2009.

The Inter Faith Network (IFN) said that it had not been asked to proscribe membership of any individual, nor had it previously been advised by the department to expel any MCB members because of the Government’s policy of non-engagement.

The member in question is Hassan Joudi, a former assistant secretary-general of the MCB. He was appointed as a trustee of the Interfaith Network in July 2023.

The charity said in a statement that its board had not sought Mr Joudi’s resignation, and “affirmed his role as a valued colleague”.

“IFN does not endorse the views of any of its member bodies, nor can any one member body or indeed trustee exert improper influence over the organisation. IFN’s purpose is to promote understanding about different faiths and strength good inter faith relations. That is the basis on which it has always sought and been granted government funding.”

The charity had been offered £155,000 in new funding by the department, for the period July 2023 to March 2024, and access to a £45,000 underspend from the previous year’s funding — but the money has not been handed over. The resulting shortfall means that its four members of staff have been given notice of redundancy. The charity’s board is to meet again next week to confirm its closure, unless money owed by the Government is made available.

An IFN co-chair, Canon Hilary Barber, said: ”The Inter Faith Network for the UK has worked for over three decades with Churches and with other faiths to increase understanding and cooperation in Britain in ways which are rooted in shared values, and which respect the integrity of the different faith communities. Its vital work will be lost unless a way forward is found on funding in the coming days.

“The Trustees of IFN have explored many other funding possibilities but support from Government remains vital. We hope that Government will reconfirm its funding offer of last July and release the urgently needed resources to enable IFN’s work, including national Inter Faith Week, to continue.”

A petition has been created on change.org urging Mr Gove to maintain funding. MPs, including Sir Stephen Timms, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society, are lobbying the Government over funding.

The IFN has worked since 1987 to “advance public knowledge and mutual understanding of the teachings, traditions and practices of the different faith communities in Britain”, its website says.

Its board includes people of the largest faith groupings, including the MCB, as well as smaller faith groups and organisations promoting interfaith relations. The Government has funded the IFN since 2001. In 2022, the charity received government grants totalling £212,500 of its £343,250 income.

“While IFN continues to fundraise, the survival of its work would be unlikely without some government support.” the network said.

In December, The Daily Telegraph reported that officials in Mr Gove’s department were concerned that the Inter Faith Network had not condemned the 7 October Hamas-led attack on southern Israel. It also reported that two member bodies of the IFN had asked the Government to stop its funding; one of them, Scriptural Reasoning, cited the MCB as the reason.

A debate in the House of Commons on the withholding of funding was secured last month by the Labour MP Holly Lynch. She said: “We need the work that the IFN does now more than ever. If we lose that — those friendships, the trust born out of that facilitated membership, and the programmes, initiatives and dialogue built up over years and years — it will take an awfully long time to rebuild it.

“Even should funding perhaps become available in the future, it would be gone [by then]. It would take a lot of time and effort to put it back together, and that would be an absolute travesty.”

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Local Government, Simon Hoare, said that there would be an announcement on funding “in due course”, but that “the network is not the only body that provides forums and organisations to deliver inter-community and inter-faith discussions.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities did not respond to questions, but pointed to a line in a note on background information on funding, which said that “all funding organisations are monitored by the department and subject to internal finance and due diligence processes.”

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