Governance, Policy

The sector should be deeply worried by the Government’s actions in forcing the closure of a charity

The government has decided to withdraw funding from the Inter-Faith Network (IFN). Here's what our CEO, Debra Allcock Tyler, has to say about it.

I find myself deeply disturbed by the recent news that the Communities Secretary, Michael Gove MP, has decided to force the Inter-Faith Network (IFN) to close today by withdrawing its long ago agreed commitment to funding (subject to the usual protocols) because of the association of one of the trustees with the Muslim Council of Britain.  

A tweet from IFN yesterday said: 


The Co-Chairs of @IFNetUK have today received a letter from Secretary of State Rt Hon Michael Gove MP 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. IFN’s Board meets tomorrow and a statement will be issued in due course.”

The IFN has done much valuable and unique work for many, many years, and by pulling funding and knowingly causing the collapse of the whole charity, the Minister is not punishing the individual he dislikes or the Muslim Council, he is punishing the cause of interfaith understanding and dialogue, and all those who stand to benefit from such an understanding. In my view, that is deeply irresponsible when we all know how divisive religious tensions and misunderstandings can be.  

What seriously concerns me for our sector, however, is that there is no suggestion that the charity is guilty of wrong-doing. To the best of my knowledge, the trustee concerned has not been publicly accused of wrong-doing. 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. 

Sadly, there is nothing we can do for the IFN. But I think we as a sector should be deeply concerned about the ability of a funder (in this case the state) to say they won’t fund a charity because they don’t like the associations of one of the trustees. 

There are so many factors for us to worry about, amongst them:  

  1. Will the impact be that charities will be afraid of appointing trustees who are ‘disliked’, those who have perhaps made comments in the past in a personal capacity about public policy that the government doesn’t like?
  2. Will this affect the many MPs who sit on charity boards? If a Labour Government gets in will this empower them to refuse to fund charities who have Tory MPs on their Board? Will charities be reluctant to appoint MPs, or active peers as trustees, for fear of losing funding? 
  3. What about trustees from vulnerable groups who may be afraid to stand as a trustee if they think their background/beliefs may negatively impact the ability of the charity to raise funds? 
  4. Is it ok for a funder to single out an individual on a board when in law a board of trustees is effectively a corporate entity and the whole board makes the decisions and governs the charity. How much more risk-averse will that make already highly risk-averse boards? 
  5. Will government lose the opportunity to fund charities who are critical to delivering their priorities if boards are reluctant to engage with them because of the fear of individuals being targeted? 

I cannot believe it is right for any funder, whether political or independent, to interfere in the legally constituted appointment of trustees to a board. You fund the charity, and you may well consider the quality of the leadership, but to single out a trustee and basically tell the board, ‘get rid of that trustee or we will not fund you’ is surely not right. 

This action is a clear act of interference in the governance of a charity – and 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.   

If there is something wrong with an individual, then that needs to be dealt with by the board of a charity, and if there is serious wrongdoing then the normal course of the law should be the route. Which does not appear to be the case here. 

It simply cannot be right to punish a charity, and ultimately those it serves, by withdrawing its funding because you don’t like one of the trustees.