A PETITION demanding Bolton Council cuts all funding to faith groups is being presented this week. Local Democracy Reporter JOSEPH TIMAN looks at the issues and the arguments for and against funding faith groups.

FAITH-based groups in Bolton have received more than £4 million of funding from the council over a nine-year period.

The spending, which came on the brink of one of the biggest austerity drives in history for local government, has come under scrutiny after a petition called for the spending to be cut.

That petition is to be presented at full council tomorrow night.

Critics say faith-based organisations should not be funded by taxpayers’ money, but council bosses, group leaders and other experts claim that faith and community groups in Bolton actually give more back to the local community than they take.

A council spokesman said: “Faith-based groups in Bolton play a vital role in our community. The social impact and the economic value that all these groups bring to our borough cannot be underestimated.”

Between 2005 and 2013 more than £4 million was given to faith groups in Bolton by the council.

Bolton Hindu Forum (BHF), Bolton Christian Community Cohesion (BCCC) and Bolton Council of Mosques (BCoM), and Bolton Interfaith Council received £2.1 million. More than half of the cash went to BCoM.

Other Christian charities received £2.5 million, including £1.4 million for Urban Outreach and £702,859 for the YMCA.

Bolton Christian Community Cohesion received £377,872 and Zac’s received £20,000.

Some say the spending has no place in the wake of austerity, when councils like Bolton have to face up to massive cuts.

But an assessment by The Cinnamon Trust in 2015 said the groups actually benefited society by £6.1 million per year - far more than they are awarded in grants.

The trust said the groups actually provided services, including everything from litter picking projects to funeral services, and their social action projects also create knock-on savings for public bodies by cutting demand on services.

During 2015, an external audit by the trust reported that in a single year, faith groups in Bolton carried out 483 projects, created 4,420 volunteer roles and had 202,641 interactions that benefited local people.

In a joint statement, the Faith Leaders’ Forum and Bolton Council said they work together to “promote understanding, compassion and exchange” between members of all communities. The forum, which is made up of Bolton Council of Mosques, Hindu Forum, Bolton Christian Community Cohesion and the Interfaith Council, said that faith-based organisations are “highly effective” in reaching large numbers of people in need and building strong cohesive communities.

They said: “The work we have done together reaches far and wide and helps to address a huge range of challenging issues which the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our communities face in their daily lives – including poverty, hunger, homelessness, addiction, mental health and children who are at risk of abuse.

“Alongside these vital services, more often than not provided by thousands of people who volunteer their time and resources to help others, our wide network of groups also run events and bring people together across boundaries of faith, place and class. We believe that working together in this way is vital if we are to continue addressing the needs of our communities, and we remain committed to moving forward together in a positive, open and welcoming manner for the good of the town that we love and the amazing people who call Bolton their home.

“Through working together to marshal the goodwill and generosity of the members of our different communities, and providing practical and financial support where possible, we are able to have a huge impact on the lives of Bolton citizens, as independent studies carried out by The Cinnamon Trust, and more recently Theos, have confirmed.”

Bolton Hindu Forum (BHF), Bolton Christian Community Cohesion (BCCC) and Bolton Council of Mosques (BCoM) provide faith-specific services and promote understanding of their religions in Bolton.

Since 2014, Urban Outreach’s council funding source has changed, and comes from bidding for social services contracts and is not included in the remit of the petition.

The charity is best known for its outreach work with the homeless and for its school dinners operation in the summer holidays.

Founder Dave Bagley said faith-based groups have strict conditions placed upon the money they spend from various grants. Organisations applying for grants must show that the money will not be used in any way to try to convert people.

Urban Outreach does not mention its faith-based background when helping the homeless, he said.

The Bolton News:

He said there is a place for faith-based organisations to provide services and meet the needs of their communities.

He said: “I think the strength and the beauty of that is that they can access a group of people who are quite specific. I think we have to be careful. It’s not about the faith, it’s about supporting people who want to do something with faith.”

He stressed the importance of these organisations in light of the terrorist attacks at two mosques in New Zealand last week which claimed 49 lives.

He added: “We need the mosques to be there to put out the message of unity and peace.”

BCoM, which represents 28 mosques and 30,000 Muslims across Bolton, has continued to receive more than £100,000 on average per year since 2014.

A BCoM spokesman said: “BCoM works to a grant agreement and work programme agreed with the council. Our work programme includes youth work, recruiting volunteers for initiatives, counselling services, faith trails, and interfaith engagement.

“In addition, BCoM is heavily involved with environmental initiatives such as litter picking, tree planting and flood risk awareness, helping those who are vulnerable such as the homeless and those in need, who are often non-Muslims.

“This includes work like helping local food banks and the winter shelter. BCoM is the base for the winter shelter.”

In the most recent round of funding from the council’s Corporate Voluntary, Community and Faith Sector Programme, BCoM received £44,430 while other faith-based groups received £14,281 each.

Organisations such as Bolton Community and Voluntary Services and Bolton Citizens Advice Bureau also benefited from this fund, each receiving more money than BCoM, while the Interfaith Council received £9,000.

Bolton Council is currently looking at changing the way it funds these groups with a new programme expected to be rolled out in May. A spokesman said: “Over the years, grants have been given to many different groups through different council budgets as a result of successful bids and as part of longstanding partnerships. Together with our public-sector partners, we are looking to bring together our existing funding programmes and funding streams from our partners into one single programme. The fund will support community projects that meet the aims of the Bolton Vision 2030 and will be designed with help from the voluntary, community, and faith sector.”

The Bolton resident who organised the petition against faith groups’ funding, Christopher Banks, said: “I don’t believe any faith organisations should be taking any money from the council. My principle on this is that it shouldn’t be about promoting faith.”

He will be given two minutes to speak when he presents his petition. He said: “It’s very strange that Bolton Council of Mosques has been given more money than Bolton Christian Community Cohesion when there are more churches than mosques in Bolton. BCoM has been given so much money when at the same time they are building a multi-million-pound mosque – so, finance isn’t an issue.”

According to BCoM, all mosques in Bolton are self-funded and maintained by their own congregations with no public money going towards them.

A multi-million-pound project to rebuild the Makkah Mosque in Great Lever which was recently approved will be funded by donations from the community, according to members.

The figures on funding for faith groups were revealed through a freedom of information request by former UKIP councillor Paul Richardson. The party’s group leader, Cllr Sean Hornby, said that there should be more transparency so that people can see where the money is going. He said: “I think as a council, answers need to be provided. I would suggest what this council does, as a matter of urgency, is to provide clarity.”


The Bolton News:

BOLTON Christian Community Cohesion says it exists to inspire and encourage over 150 churches and Christian organisations across the borough, working in close partnership with Bolton Interfaith Council and other faith groups to break down barriers and bring greater tolerance. It supports chaplaincies across the Bolton area including workplace chaplaincies (particularly Bolton Town Centre Chaplaincy and Middlebrook Angels Retail Chaplaincy), University/college/school chaplaincies, sports and hospital chaplaincies.”

BCoM says it supports, advises and advocates for 28 established mosques.

“We also offer practical services and support mechanisms to help you out directly. Our volunteers work within Bolton to ensure the Muslim community has everything it needs.”

“The advancement of the Islamic religion by encouraging the establishing and maintenance of mosques.”

Bolton Hindu Forum acts as a platform for all of the Hindu places of worship, samaj’s, community groups, and Hindu individuals within Bolton to work together in supporting the needs of the Hindu community. The advancement of Hindu Dharma, and the promotion of Hindu unity through education, events, and any other appropriate methods.”