SACC Welcomes Apology from Amina MWRC Over Prevent Funding

SACC Press release, 16 May 2017

Scottish charity Amina MWRC has recently acknowledged that it received funding in 2015 that was linked to the Government's controversial and Islamophobic Prevent strategy and says: "We apologise for any inconvenience or distress this has caused." Amina's statement is welcome but it leaves important questions unanswered. It does not explain why two apparently distinct Prevent-related grants are listed in accounts filed at Companies House.

The charity states that "there is no more funding linked to Prevent within the organisation" and claims that its policy "is, and has always been that we will not apply for or accept Prevent funding."

The statement was published on Amina's website earlier this month in response to concerns raised by SACC. We first raised these concerns in December 2015. Amina was at that time a signatory to an online pledge "to take no Prevent funds and support non-cooperation, wherever possible, with local Prevent programmes."1 The pledge, headlined “Together Against Prevent" is published by the Network For Police Monitoring (NETPOL) and is supported by SACC.

The acknowledgement and apology from Amina is welcome. It's a reminder of the need to hold charities to account, and of the need for persistence. It follows 16 months of prevarication, first by stonewalling and then by an odd claim that Amina hadn't received funding from "UK Prevent." The funding was in fact provided by the Scottish Government as part of the UK-wide Prevent strategy, which is part of the UK's overall "Contest" counter-terrorism strategy.

Amina states that its acceptance of Prevent funding was the result of a "misunderstanding." The roots of the misunderstanding lie in the Scottish Government's policy of entangling Prevent activity with work on equalities and its policy of secrecy over the disbursement of Prevent  funds, coupled with a wider culture within Prevent of deception and duplicity. For example, Edinburgh City Council say in an email seen by SACC that that Edinburgh College "have not dropped Prevent they just may not call it that."

The total funding given by the Scottish Government to NGOs in support of Prevent delivery in Scotland from 1 April 2011 to 16 July 2016 was £586,676.94, spread over 37 separate grants. 87% of this total was given to organisations (including Amina) that the Scottish Government refuses to name.2

The Scottish Government claims that disclosure would undermine national security and law enforcement. When an appeal against this position was made to the Scottish Information Commissioner, the Scottish Government added the claim that disclosure would endanger the health and safety of staff at the affected organisations. The Commissioner accepted this argument, and in doing so avoided the need to assess the Scottish Government's claims over national security and law enforcement.3

This climate of government-sponsored obfuscation has created the predicament in which Amina finds itself. The Scottish Government has no obligation to provide Prevent funds to NGOs. It should not do so, but should instead release the funds for broad-based work to support minority communities. If it insists on providing such funds, it must at least do so transparently.

While the problem – and the solution – lies primarily with the Scottish Government, Amina's handling of the situation remains unsatisfactory.

Amina's recent statement covers funds received in 2015 for its “Take Ownership” workshops. This relates to a grant of £21,000 by the Scottish Government in the year ending 31 March 2016, listed in a report and financial statement filed at Companies House4. The report states that this was for "Educating Against Extremism", and links it to the “Take Ownership” workshops.

But the report for the year ending 31 March 20155 lists an earlier grant of £15,000 from the Scottish Government for "tackling radicalism." Like the later grant, this must have been linked to Prevent. The report gives no further information on how the money was spent and does not mention the “Take Ownership” workshops. It appears that this grant was distinct from the "Take Ownership" grant. If that is the case, it conflicts with Amina’s claim that Prevent funding "was used only for one isolated project."

Amina states that there was "a lack of awareness that SPVEU was aligned to Prevent." The SPVEU (a joint Scottish Goverment and Police Scotland body) was presumably the source of the funds, though this was not stated in the Companies House reports and is not publicly acknowledged elsewhere.

SPVEU stands for Scottish Preventing Violent Extremism Unit. "Preventing Violent Extremism" has been Prevent's key phrase since Prevent emerged into the public eye in 2006, although the strategy has widened since 2011 to include some kinds of “non-violent extremism”. The Scottish Government states that the SPVEU was set up to "to oversee and co-ordinate delivery of CONTEST Prevent in Scotland." It is very difficult to understand how an organisation sufficiently aware of Prevent to have adopted a policy opposing it could be unaware of these basic facts. It suggests, at the very least, a culture of "don't ask, don't tell."

Amina states that the source of the funding was known to only one person, who has subsequently left the organisation. This seems very implausible, and undermines the credibility of Amina's statement and its claim to have carried out a "full investigation."”. It suggests that Amina has still not fully addressed the questions of corporate responsibility involved in this affair, or the role played in it by the actions and policy of the Scottish Government.

Amina has apologised for the “inconvenience and distress” it has caused. This is not an adequate description of the problems created by linking a charity to a propaganda and surveillance programme that the Scottish Government itself says is involved in national security and law enforcement work.

Amina's acknowledgement of past errors and its apparent willingness to change is a very significant and welcome step forward. But the charity has some way to go before it can be said to have earned the trust that it needs.

We hope that Amina will make good on its claim that it will not take Prevent funds in future, and that it will take the widespread criticisms of Prevent seriously enough to avoid any related programme promoted by Government, however it is branded. And we hope that other organisations in receipt of Prevent funding will think again.

Notes

  1. The Together Against Prevent website went online in September 2015. A snapshot of its supporters page recorded on the internet archive shows that Amina was a listed as a supporter by 28 November 2015. Amina was at that time in receipt of Prevent funds, as their own statement acknowledges. Amina was removed from the list of supporters in May 2016. SACC understands that this was at Amina’s request.
  2. Prevent funding mostly goes to undisclosed organisations, SACC report, 1 April 2017
  3. Scotland's Counter-Radicalisation Programme to remain secret, says Information Commissioner – SACC Press release, 1 April 2017
  4. Report of the Trustees and Financial Statements for the Year Ended 31 March 2015 for Amina – The Muslim Women’s Resource Centre can be downloaded from https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/SC432921/filing-history
  5. Report of the Trustees and Financial Statements for the Year Ended 31 March 2016 for Amina – The Muslim Women’s Resource Centre can be downloaded from https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/SC432921/filing-history

Statement from Amina

Source: Amina MWRC

Statement – Take Ownership Funding

Amina is a national organisation which annually works with 4000+ Muslim and Minority Ethnic women, providing a range of services and support across Scotland through our three office bases in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee.

We pride ourselves on putting the needs of Muslim women first and work tirelessly to support women to access opportunity and tackle islamophobia and racism in the hope of a truly tolerant and inclusive Scotland.

Scotland Against Criminalising Communities amongst others, raised questions in relation to funding for our ‘Take Ownership’ project; a series of workshops aimed at empowering young Muslims.  These questions have prompted a full investigation by the Amina Board.

Amina’s policy is, and has always been, that we will not apply for or accept Prevent funding.  Our Board of Directors have confirmed their opposition to this funding at Board level at a number of Board meetings.

Following an investigation, we can confirm that Amina MWRC did receive funding linked to the government Prevent strategy in 2015.  This was used for our ‘Take Ownership’ project.  There was a misunderstanding over the exact source of the funding stream as well as a lack of awareness that SPVEU was aligned to Prevent.  There was only one member of staff who was aware of the source of this funding and this information was never conveyed to the Board or other employees.  This member of staff has since left the organisation.

Our investigation has led us to identify a number of changes we can make in order to minimise the possibility of any such misunderstanding reoccurring.  This will help us improve the organisation and our service delivery.

The Board continues to have concerns in relation to the implementation of the Prevent strategy and its implications for the Muslim community.  We therefore did not knowingly accept funding of this nature.  Indeed it was used only for one isolated project which no longer exists.  There is no more funding linked to Prevent within the organisation.

We would ask our partners, stakeholders and all organisations and individuals linked to our work to remember that Amina MWRC has been working with Muslim women for over 20 years. Amina works with in excess of 4000 Muslim women every year supporting them to fulfil their aspirations and to live healthy, safe and discrimination free lives. Our National Helpline has registered a record number of hate crimes and the organisation has continued to expand its successful schools work which tackles misconceptions and negative stereotyping of Muslim Women.

We have pioneered ground breaking and unique ending Violence Against Women work through, amongst other work, its play “If I had a Girl” which raises awareness about honour based violence, and continues to provide personal development and training through our Employability work as well as befriending and support through our Building Bridges Project and Refugee Support Projects.

We apologise for any inconvenience or distress this has caused and look forward to continuing delivery of our valuable services and work across the sector.  Our aim is to support, educate and assist vulnerable women and their families.  We hope that we can unite with partner organisations in order to continue doing this.