THE InterFaith Network (IFN) has released a statement in response to a letter received by IFN’s Co-Chairs from the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), Michael Gove.

In the letter, Mr. Gove said he was ‘minded’ to withdraw funding from the IFN because it has a Trustee who is a member of the Muslim Council of Britain, and that this posed a reputational risk to the Government. IFN’s Board did not seek the resignation of the Trustee concerned, and has “affirmed his role as a valued colleague”.

The full statement from IFN:

The Inter Faith Network for the UK is the UK’s inter faith linking body. It has worked since 1987 to “advance public knowledge and mutual understanding of the teachings, traditions and practices of the different faith communities in Britain including an awareness both of their distinctive features and their common ground and to promote good relations between people of different faiths in this country”.

IFN’s vision is of “a society where there is understanding of the diversity and richness of the faith communities in the UK and the contribution that they make; and where we live and work together with mutual respect and shared commitment to the common good”. As part of that, it has always had a strong focus on shared values as a basis for working together for the benefit of wider society.

IFN works with its member bodies and many others to promote good inter faith relations and cooperation at every level, to highlight the importance of this work, and to ensure that the importance of religious identity and of good inter faith relations is understood in wider society. Through its major Inter Faith Week programme, it also promotes dialogue between those of religious and non-religious beliefs.

IFN’s member bodies include: national faith community representative bodies from the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and other smaller but significant faith communities of the UK; national and regional inter faith organisations; local inter faith bodies; and educational and academic bodies with an interest in multi faith and inter faith issues. A list of these can be seen here and details of its multi faith Board of Trustees can be found here.

IFN’s work is of great importance in our increasingly diverse UK. It is funded from a number of sources such as Government, trusts, faith communities and individual donors. Government funding has been made available towards its work since 2001 and is a vital part of what enables that work, including National Inter Faith Week, to take place.

On 31 March 2023, officials at the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) wrote to IFN to let it know that funding would not be offered from 1 April 2023 onwards. IFN encouraged its member bodies, past donors and other supporters to make representations to the Department – including through their own MPs. A significant number did so. A number of MPs and peers put down written questions or raised them. An emergency grant from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and a small number of significant donations from individuals kept IFN solvent and able to operate.

On 7 July 2023, IFN received a letter from DLUHC saying that, following a review by ministers of funded programmes across the Department’s Communities and Integration portfolio, IFN was being offered up to £155,000 of new funding as well as access to a £45,000 underspend on its 2022-23 grant, for use in the period July 2023 – March 2024. This offer was subject to IFN’s submitting a suitable application, Work Plan and Budget, and various due diligence and other checks.

IFN submitted all requested information, including some requested by the Department as late as October. From October to December, in answer to enquiries from IFN, officials continued to refer to the Grant Funding Agreement (GFA) process continuing to be progressed. On 10 January this year, with a GFA still not received, and IFN in an increasingly difficult position financially, an Adjournment Debate on Government Support for the Inter Faith Network took place. It was secured and led by Holly Lynch MP. Parliamentary Under-Secretary Simon Hoare MP responded for DLUHC. Inter Faith Network for the UK – Hansard – UK Parliament. Mr Hoare made a number of points, including that IFN’s work “is understood and the importance of that work is very clear”, and said an announcement would be made “in short order”.

Across the period from late November to early January, IFN received requests for comment from a Sunday Telegraph journalist on unattributed “concerns” within DLUHC about IFN. This resulted in articles published on 2 and 30 December and 13 January, levelling criticisms at IFN on a number of fronts to which IFN provided a clear response. The Sunday Telegraph chose not to publish a letter from IFN’s Co-Chairs’ to it covering, again, all the points. This can be seen here .

On the afternoon of Friday 19 January, IFN’s Co-Chairs wrote to the Secretary of State expressing their concern at the position on the Grant Funding Agreement for the funding offered on 7 July 2023 for the period July 2023 to March 2024, which had still not been received. A couple of hours after their letter had been sent to the Department, a letter to them from Mr Gove was received saying that he was “minded” to withdraw the offer of fresh funding (for July 2023 to March 2024) because IFN has a Trustee who is a member of the Muslim Council of Britain and that this posed a reputational risk to Government. Shortly thereafter, the Sunday Telegraph was in touch with detailed questions that made clear that the journalist had received a copy of the Secretary of State’s letter at almost the same time as it had been sent to IFN’s Co-Chairs.

IFN’s Board met to discuss the position on 22 January. Following that meeting, the Co-Chairs wrote to the Secretary of State. Key points drawn on in that letter can be seen here. These address membership of IFN by the Muslim Council of Britain and the role, appointment and election of IFN’s Trustees. IFN’s Board did not seek resignation of the Trustee concerned. It affirmed his role as a valued colleague.

In its inter faith work, IFN has a strong commitment to upholding democratic values.

Should the Government or other credible sources demonstrate that any member body has broken the law or carried out actions which would bring reputational damage to IFN, it would take necessary action. However, it has not been provided with such evidence.

IFN’s Board continues to engage with officials and the Board will be meeting again in the near future to consider, based on the position reached with the Government, whether IFN’s continuation is possible or whether it will be required to close.

* Read the IFN’s letter to the Editor of the Sunday Telegraph here.

* Read the House of Commons debate on the IFN in Hansard here.

* Source: The InterFaith Network