Thursday, 2 November 2006

Deadline Day

During the past year, yours truly has been in private conversation with certain senior local government officers about the problematic standing of religious communities in the advisory and consultative processes undertaken by local government. Individuals known to local government officers through political or social activities may be asked to participate in events as if they were representatives, but there are no representative structures that really work.

There is an inter-faith council which doesn't cover all the emergent new religious communities that are a feature of city life, simply the well-established and better known ones. There is no longer a council of Christian Churches that actually covers the whole of the City and Borough, nor a comprehensive Christian or inter-faith leaders' meeting that can be approached for advice.

It's a product of decline in established religious life, coupled with a culture amongst civil servants, that will not go out of its way to recognise the particular needs and contributions of religious voluntary bodies to civil life, in a misplaced effort to be 'neutral' on matters of religion, which actually excludes some from rightful participation, because they don't get their voice heard, and disengage, as a result.

The outcome of this was that during the latter half of October, I worked with a staff member of the city's policy unit on an application for funding to investigate this 'democratic deficit' in Cardiff. This was directed to the Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund unit of the Community Development Foundation. By virtue of intense last minute activity, the application went in today.

In essence, the aim is to research religious communities of every kind in the city and county of Cardiff, and their relationships with civil society. This will look particularly at the contribution they make to society and the kind of relationships they have with local and national government officers, elected representatives, even people in non-governmental agencies. When the research is published in early 2008, all participants in the survey will be invited to a city-wide conference to consider the implications of its findings, and what this implies for relationships between religious communities and the state, locally and nationally.

We now have to wait three months for an outcome.