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03 July 2013

Government backs Alliance workshops between faith groups and councils

Government backs Alliance workshops between faith groups and councils

Government minister Mark Prisk MP commended Evangelical Alliance plans to build better relationships between faith groups and local councils, and encouraged councils to get involved.

He also said: "I strongly feel that faith communities play a very important role at the local and national level. It is about helping many people to strengthen their moral outlook, and about the way in which such groups help people and provide a service to others, by being good neighbours."

The comments came at the conclusion of a parliamentary debate on cooperation between local government and faith communities on 2 July. The debate followed the publication of the Faith in the Community report by Christians in Parliament in conjunction with the Evangelical Alliance. During the debate Fiona Bruce MP said the report is "important in many ways, not least because it has helped to highlight the sheer extent and value of faith groups' contribution to local communities throughout the country".

Later this year the Evangelical Alliance will be holding workshops across England and Scotland to draw together leaders from different areas, and from both faith communities and local government. The purpose of these meetings will be to consider barriers that prevent closer working relationships, and share best practice of how these barriers can be overcome.

Andrea Leadsom, Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, opened the debate with an overview of the report, and commented that it "clearly shows that the work of faith groups is thriving and that their contribution to society is varied and highly valued by local authorities and the communities they serve".

She went on to say: "Local authorities and all of us in public life must accept and welcome those of faith and not merely tolerate them, or try to exclude them, which happens all too often."

Stephen Timms, Labour MP for East Ham and the party's vice-chair for faith groups, spoke of the vast contribution Christian organisations make to local communities. He also noted: "Religious literacy has led to local authorities being hesitant to work with faith groups… Another organisation found that its local authority is reluctant to work with a single faith group in case doing so offended other faith groups. Such problems are often the result of a misunderstanding, rather than malice."

During the debate Sir Tony Baldry, the Church of England's Second Church Estates Commissioner and as such their representative in the House of Commons, recounted his experience of Street Pastors. "When I recently went to Wellingborough and Kettering to see Street Pastors at work, what impressed me was that at the beginning of the evening, senior police officers came in to brief them about what was happening in the community that night, how things were in the town and what they expected. Those Street Pastors had the full support and respect of the local police and the local authority, which was much appreciated."

In his summing up Mark Prisk MP also quoted the Archbishop of York's forward to the report which said: "Building strong working relationships between local authorities and religious communities should not be based on mere 'tolerance'. It should be about talking, listening, and growing together. Together, working in unity of spirit, we are stronger than when we try to do things in isolation."