Why Lambeth 2008 had to look for a bail-out

25 March 2009

by Bill Bowder

Bill that was “missed”: the Big Top up and running at Lambeth 2008 ACNS/Sweeney

Bill that was “missed”: the Big Top up and running at Lambeth 2008 ...

FAILURES to face the true costs of last year’s £5.2-million Lambeth Conference are catalogued in a report published this week. They include an assumption that the Church Commissioners would pick up the bill if necessary, and “missing” a bill of £411,000 for the conference’s Big Top tent.

The Lambeth Conference Fund­ing Review Group, chaired by John Ormerod, an accountant, which has produced the report, was set up after the Lambeth Conference Company sought £1.2 million of emergency funding, which was set aside by the Archbishops’ Council and the Church Commissioners.

The group includes the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, the chairman of the General Synod’s House of Laity, Dr Christina Baxter, and the Third Church Estates Com­missioner, Timothy Walker.

The report questions whether the company had the necessary in­depend­ence from the church in­stitutions. Its directors were the general secretary of the Anglican Communion Office (ACO), Canon Kenneth Kearon (chairman), Wil­liam Fittall, the secretary-general of the Archbishops’ Council, and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s chief of staff, Chris Smith. The directors were also the trustees.

The review group also questions “whether the match between avail­able skills and needs was as good as might be wished”.

The Anglican Consultative Coun­cil had a constitutional obligation towards the costs of the Conference, but had stopped putting money aside for the Conference since 2004, spending it instead on new offices.

The £1.6 million left over from 1998 and from setting money aside up to 2004 did not cover the ex­pected £2.5-million rise in the cost to £6.1 million. In the event, because of the shortfall in the number of bishops who attended, the final cost was £5.2 million.

“To commit expenditure in ad­vance of secure income was a practice that the directors of an entirely stand-alone company might have regarded as too risky. In doing so, it appears therefore that those involved have proceeded on the expectation that the Anglican Com­munion and in particular Church of England bodies . . . would not ultimately let the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Conference fail to pay its bills.”

The Commissioners were worried as early as May 2006 that they would be landed with the bill.

There had been many changes in planning for the Conference. Up to 2004, it was to be held in South Africa. The key players were new, and there was little corporate memory of what had happened in 1998, or con­sultation of those who could remember.

The ACO finance officer respons­ible for the budget was not always aware of the financial commitments that the Conference management staff were making. This resulted in “missing” a bill for £411,000 for the Big Top tent. This error more than wiped out the Conference’s con­tingency fund.

A bill of £80,576 from the University of Kent for log-on and IT support was £65,576 over budget.

In its budgeting, the company apparently did not take into account the consequences of a decision taken by Dr Williams in October 2007 not to mount a fund-raising drive in the United States, because of the general situation in the Anglican Com­munion.

The report makes a series of re­commendations to prevent a recur­rence in 2018.

The projected deficit for 2008 had fallen at the end of last year to £288,000.

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