1. Skip to content

National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Minister reinforces role of faith groups in local communities

At a recent meeting of the Cinnamon Network — which is working hard to organise religious organisations to take over a range of social services — the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, said: “The problem is that, in our recent years, some people have started becoming suspicious about religion. In the eyes of some, the fact that you are a Christian means that you are ‘weird’. They ask you to be silent about faith – or not get involved in your community.

“And if that happens everyone — everyone — loses out from that. Because we know that you can make a difference. Raising money for social causes. Looking after your neighbourhood. And reaching people in their darkest hour – when they are suffering with debt, divorce, drugs or despair.

“We want to tap into that secular side of your work, into your huge potential to do good. We want to help you fulfil it to the best of your abilities. Not by duplicating. Not by muscling in. But complementing what we find on the ground. And giving you the freedom and encouragement you need.”

In his speech, Mr Pickles assured “faith leaders” that the Localism Bill would not only encourage the wholesale farming out of local services to community groups, but would make it easier for religious groups to buy buildings. He said:

Instead of faith groups relying on the goodwill of local authorities to get involved, we are giving them rights to have a say. The Localism Bill includes two key measures that place power in the hands of local charities.

The first is the right to buy. People will be able to nominate local landmarks and properties that they care about as “assets of community value.” When these assets are sold or change hands, local groups will be given extra time to put together a credible bid to take them over. In other words, we’re making it easier for local faith groups to take over buildings:

Easier for, say, the old meeting hall to become the new premises of a social enterprise.

The second major new right for charity and community groups is the Right to Challenge.

Local groups who have a bright idea for how a service could be run better — whether it’s meals on wheels, or homelessness support — will be able to put their proposals in front of the council for proper consideration.

If the proposals are of a decent quality, this will trigger a procurement exercise in line with normal legal requirements.

The one thing that Mr Pickles did not promise “faith groups”, though, was any more money. And that is something that should raise alarm bells with them.

The full text of Pickle’s speech can be found at the website www.communityfranchising.net

Published Fri, 01 Jul 2011