Waste, Faith and the State

I was Treasurer at the London Buddhist Centre from 2006 until last year. During that time, the LBC embarked upon, and completed, what turned out to be a £2M building project. The work involved major refurbishment and improvements to the Grade II listed Victorian fire station that is home to the LBC, and the start of Breathing Space, the LBC’s mindfulness for health project.

We were fortunate at the time to receive external funding from Futurebuilders and City Bridge Trust. One of the applications that was unsuccessful, though, went to the Veolia Environmental Trust under the Landfill Communities Fund (LCF). The LCF is a tax credit scheme that enables landfill sites to contribute money to environmental and community projects in their vicinity – including places of worship (under Object E). The LBC was eligible to apply for these funds because it is located with 10 miles of a landfill (in Thamesmead).

We applied in February 2008 and received our rejection in July 2008. I started digging around in the database of the LCF regulator, Entrust. Entrust was set up by the Conservatives in 1995 to oversee financial probity of landfill tax credits. It was the only private regulator at the time – this may still be the case. What I found alarmed me. I could find only four non-Christian projects under the ‘places of worship’ part of the scheme (Object E). Yet more than £54M had been spent under this objective on nearly 5,000 projects. Places of worship can also apply under Object D (‘other general public amenity’). But I only found a further four non-Christian projects there – out of a total of more than £400M spent, at that time.

We wrote to Veolia and Entrust at the time, voicing our concerns. But the picture more than three years later doesn’t look much better. This is what I find when I search the Entrust database today*:

More than £1 billion has now been spent under the scheme. Only five of the 5209 ‘religious places of worship’ projects appear to be non-Christian – a total of just over £72,000 of the more than £68M spent under Object E. Furthermore, it would appear that only 18 non-Christian projects have been awarded funds (around £500,000) under Object D – out of a total of 26,195 projects and £573M spent. In total, then, it would seem that only 23 non-Christian projects have received any of the £641M public funds spent.

Now I could be missing something here. If you have a different reading of the data please do let me know. But it does make me wonder whether this fund is somehow favouring the Church over non-Christian places of worship, perhaps unwittingly. If this is true, I wonder what it says about the relationship between Church and State in the UK today? 




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* The search terms I used were: vihara, buddhist, mosque, synagogue, temple, gurdwara, sikh, muslim, hindu.


2 Responses to “Waste, Faith and the State”

  1. Chintamani says:

    Well, the UK is technically not a secular state – i.e. it is ‘C of E’- and it’s Head of State is Supreme Governor of the Church of England – so it surely should not be surprising that, in such things as state funding, the Church is favoured over non-Christian places of worship.

  2. Manjusiha says:

    Thanks for the comment Chintamani. The Landfill Tax Regulations are pretty clear: Object E relates to ‘The repair, maintenance or restoration of a Place of Worship or a Place of Architectural Importance.’ No mention of churches. Presumably if the intention were for the regulations to favour churches over other places of worship then this could have been written into the legislation itself.

    I understand that the UK is technically not a secular state. Does the fact that we have an established church override statute, though? For me this is another example of our ramshackle unwritten constitution creaking at the seams. There have been many significant constitutional changes, particularly since 1997 e.g. devolution and freedom of information legislation. Against this backdrop doesn’t an established church seem increasingly archaic? Perhaps this is one of the reasons that faith and the state is so much in the news these days.

    There are, of course, many good things about the compromise that is our constitution. There are even some good things about the role of the church in public life. And there are many wonderful things about our society and about Englishness: fairness, stoicism, inclusiveness, courage and tolerance are qualities that immediately come to my mind this morning. Why not enshrine these and other principles in a written constitution for the first time, rather than relying on historical precedence, some of which no longer reflects our country as it is today? This would surely help resolve confusion about the primacy of the Church, Monarchy or Parliament. And it would enable us, potentially, to talk about what we share as individuals and communities within our nation – the views and values upon which we are happy to stand together.

    The key issue for me in writing this article – and perhaps this blog generally – is ‘what, now, provides the ethical foundation for public life?’ It is a beautiful, historical mess, it seems to me. I’m in favour of the right sort of conversation and a pro-active process towards a modern state informed by Englightened principles.

    And I am in favour, by the way, of looking after our old churches. They are an important part of our cultural heritage, in the same way that somewhere like Stonehenge is. But this is separate from preserving active ‘places of worship’ that people are inspired by and which help to provide an ethical compass and path to transcending self-centredness. Some of our churches still provide that function, of course. But, with declining attendance, something else needs to fill the gap in our ethical life. Better to do this consciously and collectively, rather than by stealth or by default.

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