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An invitation from secular partners?

Communities Minister Andrew Stunell said that faith groups are making a vital contribution to national life, and are integral to creating the Big Society[1]. "Faith communities make a vital contribution to national life, guiding the moral outlook of many, inspiring great numbers of people to public service, providing succour to those in need. They are helping to bind together local communities and improve relations at a time when the siren call of extremism has never been louder.

This acknowledgement continues a trend through the 2000s, witnessed by various academic and policy publications[2], when there was an increasing focus on role of faith organisations, for example, as partners in regeneration in programmes such as New Deal for Communities and as members of Local Strategic Partnerships.

In March 2010, towards the end of the last term of the Labour Government, the Department for Communities and Local Government produced a short document, Ensuring a level playing field: funding faith-based organisations to provide publicly funded services. It recognised that certain myths sometimes obstruct faith groups in securing fair access to public funding and tendering opportunities as part of the third sector. For example:

"We're not allowed to give public money to religious organisations."

"Faith-based bodies don't have the necessary expertise or ‘clout’ to deliver services."

"They will use public money for proselytising or worship.”

"They wouldn't want to help people they don't approve of.”

"Single group funding has negative implications for community cohesion."

"Faith based groups only work with their own communities."

The paper’s purpose was to explode these myths. In each case, the real position is outlined to counter the myth with the aim of showing the eligibility of faith groups, like any other suitably qualified bodies, to be awarded a tender to deliver publicly funded services, or to be given a grant to carry out a project of benefit to the wider community or to their own members or constituency of supporters.

A recent demonstration of governmental willingness to engage with the churches is the Near Neighbours scheme in which the Church Urban Fund has received government funding for work in multi-faith communities (see section 4.2).

[1] Speaking at the annual meeting of the Inter Faith Network for the UK, 12th July 2010.

[2] For example, Faith and Community, Local Government Association, 2002; Richard Farnell, Robert Furbey, Stephen Shams Al-Haqq Hills, Marie Macey, Greg Smith, Faith in Urban Regeneration – Engaging faith communities in urban regeneration Joseph Rowntree Foundation, April 2003; Working Together: Co-operation between Government and Faith Communities, Home Office Faith Communities Unit, February 2004; Robert Furbey, Adam Dinham, Richard Farnell, Doreen Finneron and Guy Wilkinson with Catherine Howarth, Dilwar Hussain and Sharon Palmer, Faith as Social Capital, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 15 March 2006