Michael Gove, M.P. and Times columnist as well as author of the book Celsius 7/7 has been asking a series of Commons questions. On the 24th October:
Michael Gove: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how much (a) financial support and (b) support in kind his Department and its agencies have given to the Muslim Council of Britain in each year since 1997. 
Mr. Hain: The Northern Ireland Office has provided no financial assistance or support in kind to the Muslim Council of Britain.
On the 25th, two question:
Michael Gove: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how much (a) financial support and (b) support in kind his Department and its agencies have given to the Muslim Council of Britain in each year since 1997. 
David Cairns: The Scotland Office was established in July 1999. Since that date it has incurred no expenditure in cash or in kind in support of the Muslim Council of Britain.
Michael Gove: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how much (a) financial support and (b) support in kind his Department and its agencies have given to the Muslim Council of Britain in each year since 1997. 
Mr. Hain: The Wales Office was established in 1999 and has given neither financial support nor support in kind to the Muslim Council of Britain.
So what is his point? Surely there are public accounts from which he could get this information.
Well, not exactly. The MCB has a very unusual structure(pdf):
7. Legal Status
The MCB shall be an unincorporated association.
a) The MCB shall cause title to all property, land and investments held by or on behalf of the MCB, to be vested in not less than five individuals appointed by the MCB as Holding Trustees.
I have been unable to find a page on the MCB website that lists who these holding trustees might be. And they have had a fair chunk of public money. I have a copy of a letter from the Home Office that confirms
1.I am writing to make you a formal offer of a grant for this financial year ending 31 March 2005.
2.This offer is subject to the terms and conditions set out below and in the enclosed Standard Terms and Conditions of Grant (1 April 2004). Please read these conditions, and this letter, carefully.
3.The purpose of the grant is to fund 5 projects that you proposed. These are 1) MCB Leadership Development programme 2) MCB Leadership mentoring programme 3) MCB Direct 4) British Citizenship Programme 5) British Muslim Equality programme. You may regard the money as restricted funds for accounting purposes.
4.The sum offered for the financial year ending 31 March 2005 is £148160.00 This will be a single payment and will be made on a one off basis.
There have been other grants – for website development and other specific projects.
There is a registered charity, The Muslim Council of Britain Charitable Foundation but this handles more modest sums:
|Financial Year Start
||Financial Year End
|01 Apr 2001
||31 Mar 2002
|01 Apr 2002
||31 Mar 2003
|01 Apr 2003
||31 Mar 2004
|01 Apr 2004
||31 Mar 2005
Small potatoes, compared to the grants flowing from the public purse to an apparently entirely unaccountable body. Their annual reports show no financial information whatsoever, just the Chairman’s speeches.
I have no idea what reason Mr Gove has for his questions. But I cannot see any justification for giving taxpayers’ money to such an opaque organisation as the MCB. Until they adopt a proper structure with filed public accounts, they should receive no more public money.
UPDATE: On reflection, my reaction was far too calm. I suppose I’m so used to seeing public money being poured into unaccountable and positively destructive holes that I just grunt and move on.
Of course the MCB should be compelled to provide audited financial statements for every year in which they have received any grants whatsoever from public sources of any kind, including the National Lottery. This is MY money and I want to know how it is being spent. As things stand, I am aware of no mechanism whereby it can be established that the MCB have spent money on the purposes for which it was awarded.
This is a disgrace.
UPDATE 2: 26th October 2006:
Michael Gove: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development how much (a) financial support and (b) support in kind his Department and its agencies have given to the Muslim Council of Britain in each year since 1997. 
Hilary Benn: To date no financial support has been given to the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB)
MCB were successful in securing the commitment of funding for a development awareness project among the Muslim community through the 2005-06 Development Awareness Fund which is a competitive funding scheme. The programme has not yet begun and DFID has not given any funding for activity yet.
DFID has had dealings with the MCB on occasions, including co-chairing a seminar for Islamic NGOs in 2005, and in 2001 publishing its fourth Target 2015 booklet, in association with the Muslim Council of Britain, Muslim Aid and Islamic Relief. These activities did not involve direct funding of MCB.