Key Points:

British charities are going to the wall, leading philanthropists are cutting back and patrons of the arts are closing their wallets. But in these financially straitened times, Tony and Cherie Blair are emerging as Britain's answer to Bill and Melinda Gates.

Company accounts show the former Prime Minister and his wife have set up a series of charities that have global reach and expansive ambitions. Many politicians decide to set up charitable organisations after they leave office, but the scale of the Blairs' ambitions dwarfs those of their British predecessors.

Everything from striving for the promotion of women entrepreneurs to encouraging healthy Geordies, eradicating fatal illnesses and bringing lasting peace to the Middle East are to receive the Blairs' philanthropic touch. And the names of those lending support to their charitable trusts read like a who's who of movers and shakers from sport, religion and philanthropy.

The potent mix is already paying dividends. Accounts for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation reveal that the charity, which aims to promote greater understanding between the world's religions, received donations of 3.6 million ($9.8 million) in its first year.

The accounts do not reveal who gave the money but there is speculation that some of it is coming from wealthy benefactors in the Middle East. The accounts reveal that 550,000 has been ring-fenced for promoting the foundation's work with the Islamic, Christian and Jewish faiths.

The foundation has a number of key aims, including to help faith groups play their part in eradicating malaria, chiefly by encouraging mosques and churches to run training courses to spread health messages. In Britain, the foundation is aiming to improve religious literacy among young people through the production of "high-quality educational resources" that will be distributed in schools.

Intriguingly, the foundation's accounts reveal it has plans to broaden its franchise and establish the Tony Blair Faith Foundation - USA. It is already supporting a course at Yale University "to deepen understanding of the links between religion, politics and economics in the 21st century".

Blair's global ambitions for his faith foundation are also helped by the choice of advisers. These include the Rev David Coffey, president of the powerful Baptist World Alliance, a global network of church groups; the UK's Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks; and Mustafa Ceric, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina, who has won numerous peace awards for promoting inter-faith harmony and is widely respected by Jews and Muslims alike.

But perhaps the biggest name on Blair's advisory board is the Rev Rick Warren, founder of the Saddleback Church in the US and one of the country's most prominent evangelists.

In addition to the faith foundation, Blair has also launched the Tony Blair Sports Foundation to "invest in local people, inspiring them to make the most of themselves through sport".

Filed accounts also show Blair has established the Tony Blair Governance Initiative. The aims of the charity, set up last December, are "to relieve poverty and ... promote social and economic development" through the administration of good governance.

Not to be outdone, Cherie Blair has established her own eponymous trust. The first accounts of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women reveal it is trying to break down the economic barriers facing women by using new technology.

The Blairs may have been inspired by Microsoft founder Bill Gates who, with his wife Melinda, helps preside over a foundation with an endowment worth more than US$35 billion ($66 billion).

BLAIR WHICH PROJECTS

* Tony Blair Faith Foundation: aims to promote greater understanding between religions
* Tony Blair Faith Foundation-USA: a planned offshoot of the main organisation
* Tony Blair Sports Foundation: aims to promote sport in communities
* Tony Blair Governance Initiative: aims to promote good governance
* Cherie Blair Foundation for Women: aims to help women by using new technology.

- OBSERVER