The latest edition of East End Life is most interesting for what’s not in it. While on p6 there’s a report on the latest round of cash handouts to various community groups (more of that in another post), there’s nothing about another tax-funded vote buying exercise which was announced on the same day last week.
I’ve no idea why Mayor Lutfur or his legion of highly paid “communications” advisers don’t make more of the edicts known as “mayoral executive decisions”; maybe he wants to keep them quiet.
But last Thursday, two months later than planned, he slipped out via this section on the council website his latest re-election campaign move.
I first wrote about his “Community Faith Building Scheme” here last November when Lutfur’s cabinet agreed a budget for a £2million programme. His cabinet then added a further £1million to this pot in February. The programme is being funded from supposedly precious council reserves (this in a period of cuts, remember) to “offer assistance to faith communities to repair, adapt and improve buildings in Tower Hamlets in which faith-based activities occur”.
The money is being doled out in three tranches and three types of grant were available. Type A had an initial cap of £75k per application for actual repair and revamp work; Type B was for more substantial works with a cap of £300k; and Type C had a cap of £10k to help with professional fees such as architectural advice needed for Types A and B.
According to the council’s website earlier this year, 42 bids totalling £2,995,880 had been made. So Lutfur and the officer in charge of the project, the regeneration director Aman Dalvi (who some senior councillors have said is too close to the Mayor), decided to reduce the cap on Type A bids to £25,000 so more groups would get something.
So all 42 applications have been at least partially successful and a total of £595,000 of our money has been handed out.
Here’s a table that summarises the breakdown by faith. It also shows the 2011 Census results for people who identified themselves by faith. The council said it would use this as a key driver of how it awarded the grants. The Equality Impact statement in Appendix 5 of this document says: “The figures show that the two faiths with the most people according to the 2011 Census (Muslim and Christian) have submitted the most applications, requested the most funding and have been recommended the most funding.
The breakdown by faith is:
So who’s won?
Well, the East London Mosque, which is sitting on a cash pile a mile high (its latest accounts show it had £2.7million in its account last year), has been awarded £10,000 to install a new sliding glass door, repaint the dome and minaret, and to clean and polish the signage. You’d have thought it would have been a little more charitable and let a smaller outfit take the money.
A few churches have also been successful: the Rev Alan Green, of the Tower Hamlets Inter Faith Forum, will be chuffed that £25k has been given to refurbish his community centre at St John on Bethnal Green.
And the borough’s two main synagogues – the East London Central Synagogue in Nelson Street, which is chaired by Leon Silver of the Inter Faith Forum, and Congregation of Jacob Synagogue in Commercial Road – have got £25k between them.
The Gudwara Sikh temple in Harley Grove, Bow, which re-opened last week after being destroyed by an arson attack in 2009, gets £15k for, among other things, solar panels.
And there are also a few which have been awarded £10k to cover the professional fees needed to explore further substantial works. These include the tiny Bow Muslim Cultural Centre in Roman Road. I wonder what plans they have.
The full list is in the documents below. A grand total of £150,000 has been set aside by the council to “project manage” this programme. Presumably, this will include ensuring the money is spent as intended.
As for the rights and wrongs of earmarking public cash for religious buildings and activities…well, the council says it’s allowed to. It’s a direct consequence of the Localism Act.
The National Secular Society is dead against it. They commented here last November
The Mayor says he is responding to a community demand. I said last November that if this money is used to improve community facilities that are open to all, ie inclusive, then it’s not a bad thing.
But that’s a big if. Many of these places ‘ain’t exactly inclusive.
As will be shown at a later date.
Here are the winners: