A Covenant for Engagement
11 December 2014 was a great day for FaithAction and the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Faith and Society. Birmingham City Council and faith communities signed the Covenant which the APPG has proposed for faith and local commissioners. Birmingham is the first civil authority to adopt this agreement with faith and, as the largest local authority in Europe, this is a key starting place for the Covenant.
Why is FaithAction interested in such an agreement? Some have asked this question – as our focus is primarily on the ‘actions’ of those of faith, not necessarily the talking. The Covenant – and more, the outworking of such commitments – are what we believe can be the catalyst for wider society to benefit from the many positive attributes of faith and faith communities. In that sense this is a ‘Covenant for engagement’ to encourage the participation of faith – a vital component of civil society – in decision-making and the planning and delivery of services in local areas; it is also about the development of a new connection between local government and faith. Cllr McKay of Birmingham City Council talked of an approach that involves a renewed humility towards the faith communities. Certainly, as we have spoken to other local authorities, there is a sense that the Covenant can be used as a starting point or tool to help local state workers ‘restart’, or recalibrate, their thinking about faith, and about what part each sector should be playing in local areas.
A new sense of a connected and relating society is a positive response to the devolution tremors resulting from the independence referendum in Scotland, and the current dissatisfaction with the main three political parties. The emphasis on a positive localism, connected with the Social Value Act, gives an opportunity for a new settlement of ideas about how society should look.
On the ground, we expect that the Covenant will cause local assessments of need, such as the Joint Strategic Needs Assessments (JNSAs) that look at local health and wellbeing, to be better informed as faith communities see and act on their role in improving the lot of those around them. It will mean that Health and Wellbeing Boards will have more sources of information and ways of disseminating messages. And that local politics will be an avenue not for fragmentation but for a new local connectedness.