Controversial faith-based police office to be wound down
A headline-grabbing religious organisation set up by the former Northants Police Crime Commissioner looks like it will be quietly shelved by the new PCC.
The controversial Northamptonshire Police Office for Faith Based and Community Initiatives was launched two years ago in a fanfare by former PCC and committed Christian Adam Simmonds.
Its role was to “nurture, equip and enable” religious organisations to help reduce crime in the county.
But a month after his tenure ended it is believed the OFBCI director Helen Boardman has left her post and the organisation’s website has been shut down, although PCC Stephen Mold’s office have said they will not comment today on the issue.
Community groups involved with the taxpayer-funded organisation, based at the University of Northampton, have been told that the office no longer exists, although it is thought that there may be some ongoing support for faith-based groups on a much smaller scale
The OFBCI director Helen Boardman was paid between £35,000 and £42,000 per year. In its first year the organisation handed out £63,000 to faith-based groups. In its second year it is not known exactly how much was handed out although the grants detailed on the PCC website total £32,000 to groups including the Kettering Muslim Association, the Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council and the Northamptonshire Somali Women and Girls Association.
One of the groups that benefited from funding was the East Northants Faith Group, an umbrella organisation that aims to tackle crime, homelessness and social issues with its partners that include the Sanctuary Night Shelter, Recovery House and Rushden Food Bank.
Trustee Reverend Mark Lees said it was a disappointment that groups such as his had been left without a link with the police.
He said: “The OFBCI allowed us to work alongside the police in a really effective way.
“It was a chance for us to really talk to senior officers and build a good link.
“We have done countywide surveys to show religious groups are putting tens of millions of pounds into supporting our community in prevention of crime, fear of crime, working with people with criminal backgrounds and tackling anti-social behaviour.
“That’s our bread and butter. We can have a really big impact in those areas.
“But now it seems the police are saying that they don’t see us as being a part of that in the future.
“I understand that Stephen Mold will have different priorities but a police officer on the street will only very rarely catch a criminal in the act whereas we do a lot of prevention work and our volunteers are probably worth hundreds of police officers.”
Reverend Lees added that he had 3,500 volunteers that all helped prevent crime in different ways just in East Northants - a situation replicated in each borough in the county.
He added: “I met Stephen Mold and I told him that I, just one man, was probably saving him a million pounds a year in crime prevention through the work I do and there are many, many more like me who do the same.
“But it seems there is no recognition of that.
“The money we got from the organisation was peanuts really. But it’s not about the money, it’s about the relationship that the OFBCI has allowed us to have with the police, the chance to meet with senior officers.
“I’m not sure we’ll have that now.”
The office received a backlash from the National Secular Society which raised concerns about the appropriateness of funding groups with a specific religious focus. It was also criticised in its first year for awarding grants only to Christian organisations.
Former PCC Adam Simmonds stepped down last month after deciding not to run for a second term.