EXPENDITURE on bishops’ houses is out of control, an official task group has concluded.
The funding for see houses is set every three years. The total spent in 2002-04 was £11 million. In 2008-10, it is forecast to be £21 million. The average maintenance cost of some bishops’ houses is now well over £50,000 a year.
The figures come in a document prepared by a task group on spending, chaired by the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres. Other members include the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd Andrew Urquhart, and the First Church Estates Commissioner, Andreas Whittam Smith.
The group acknowledges that a number of the houses are Grade I and Grade II listed. It also accepts that much of the expenditure is a result of work on office space in many of the houses, which are used by diocesan staff as well as by the bishop. Such expenditure seldom adds to the value of the house.
It concludes, none the less, that the money allocated in 2011-13 should be capped at £15 million, with a view to bringing it down to no more than £10 million in 2014-16. “There is a compelling need to bring control over this area of expenditure,” the group says.
Official responsibility for the see houses rests with the Church Commissioners, and their board of governors is discussing future strategy later this year.
The task group says: “Our view is that it has no option but to think radically about the future. Past reviews have created much debate but little real change. We think that the time has come when tinkering with the portfolio will not be enough.”
The group proposes that the Commissioners “make an urgent review of the suitability criteria for see houses, and consider their long-term role in funding them, acknowledging that [this] will raise wider issues relating to the roles of bishops”.
It is clear that the task group envisages the sale of some see houses. Rose Castle, the home of the Bishop of Carlisle, is already earmarked for sale. No judgement has yet been given about Bishop Auckland Castle, the home of the Bishop of Durham (News, 28 May).
The group also proposes that works be restricted to those “which genuinely sustain the value of the properties and enable them to be lived in without risk to safety or comfort”. This suggests a halt to any office development.
The task group concludes that, without “downward pressure on the see-house costs”, there is a risk that the Church’s expenditure on its bishops will continue to rise faster than its expenditure on parish ministry.
More generally, the group indicates that the good return on the Commissioners’ investments means that, in the three years 2011-13, the money given for distribution — to low-income dioceses, cathedrals, episcopal ministry, and mission development — can be maintained at the 2010 level of £94.6 million a year.
Pension compromise. The General Synod next week will be asked to agree a revision to the planned changes in clergy pensions. In order to make clergy pensions more affordable, the Synod agreed in February to a number of changes, including the rise of the pension age from 65 to 68, and an increase in the number of working years needed to accrue a full pension from 40 years to 43.
These changes were put to the 8882 active members of the pension scheme. All were agreed, apart from the 43-year target. A number pointed out that few clergy would ever qualify for a full pension on these grounds. The Archbishops’ Council has now proposed changing this to 41.5 years.
Should your bishop live in a more modest house? Vote here