Concerns raised as government withdraws charity funding over trustee’s links

22 Feb 2024 News

Michael Gove, secretary of state for the department of levelling up, housing and communities

Official government portrait

Concerns have been raised over the government’s decision to withdraw proposed funding from a 37-year-old charity, potentially leading to its closure, over a trustee’s membership of another organisation.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has reversed its previous decision to award funding to the Inter Faith Network (IFN) due to one of its trustees being a member of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).

DLUHC, which had provisionally awarded £155,000 to the IFN for the current financial year, said it would not “use taxpayer money in a way that legitimises the influence of organisations such as the MCB”.

IFN will discuss plans to close this afternoon, having received government funding since 2001, with 62% of its income coming from one government grant in 2022.

The charity posted yesterday on social media that it had received a letter from DLUHC secretary Michael Gove “saying that funding offered, subject to conditions, to IFN in July 2023 for the period until March 2024 would not be provided”.

“The reasons are foreshadowed in his earlier letter of 19 January to them and relate to the inclusion on IFN’s board of a trustee who is a member of the Muslim Council of Britain.”

In an article published this morning, DSC chief executive Debra Allcock Tyler wrote that the sector should be “deeply worried by the government’s actions” in effectively “forcing the closure of a charity” by withdrawing funding.

Government: ‘IFN cannot rely on continuous taxpayer funding’

DLUHC provisionally awarded IFN £155,000 for 2023-24 but later raised concerns over its appointment of MCB member Hassan Joudi last July.

The government’s policy of non-engagement with the MCB began in 2009 when its former deputy secretary general Daud Abdullah signed a declaration it interpreted as “advocating attacks on the Royal Navy”, according to Guardian coverage.

However, this was reversed in early 2010 before the last Labour government left office, according to MCB’s website.

IFN has 20 trustees registered with the Charity Commission, including Joudi.

A DLUHC spokesperson said: “The government has held a consistent policy of non-engagement with the Muslim Council of Britain.

“Last year, an MCB member was appointed to the core governance structure of the Inter Faith Network.

“As a result, government has decided to withdraw the offer of new funding for the Inter Faith Network.

“Interfaith work is hugely important but that does not require us to use taxpayer money in a way that legitimises the influence of organisations such as the MCB.

“The Inter Faith Network cannot rely on continuous taxpayer funding.

“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.”

‘Clear act of interference in the governance of a charity’

Allcock Tyler wrote that “by pulling funding and knowingly causing the collapse of the whole charity”, Gove was “punishing the cause of interfaith understanding and dialogue”.

“What seriously concerns me for our sector, however, is that there is no suggestion that the charity is guilty of wrongdoing,” she wrote.

“To the best of my knowledge, the trustee concerned has not been publicly accused of wrongdoing. As far as I can tell, this is a perfectly legitimate charity carrying out its lawfully constituted work with its legally appointed board of trustees.”

Allcock Tyler wrote that the decision to withdraw funding was “a clear act of interference in the governance of a charity”.

“I cannot believe that the Charity Commission would find it acceptable if a board caved to such behaviour and dismissed a trustee on those grounds,” she added.   

The Muslim Charities Forum also expressed concern about the IFN’s potential closure.

Meanwhile, a Charity Commission spokesperson said: “We can confirm that, in line with our guidance, the Inter Faith Network has filed a serious incident report relating to the likelihood that it will need to close due to funding issues.”

IFN said it planned to publish a further statement on its future operations after meeting this afternoon after taking an “in-principle decision to move towards closure of the organisation” on 7 February.

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