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State of finances in the dioceses: views from Oxford and Canterbury

by
26 July 2013

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From the Diocesan Secretary of Oxford

Sir, - Your unnamed correspondent (Letters, 19 July) gives an erroneous impression of the financial situation in the diocese of Oxford.

In common with the whole of the Church of England, we are feeling the effects of the recession. For the past four years, we have been working to a planned deficit budget, to help adjust to the increasing costs of clergy pensions, National Insurance, and training the exceptionally high number of ordinands who come from this diocese.

Last year's shortfall in share payment was disappointing, but, thanks to strenuous efforts to make savings elsewhere in the budget, we were able to keep on track. Our plan has always been to break even in 2013, a target that we are on course to meet.

We do have a bank facility for short-term borrowing, to enable us to buy and sell vicarages, but this is part of our normal financial management, not to pay stipends.

As a very large diocese - 626 parishes and 815 churches spread across three counties - we benefit from economies of scale. Recent benchmarking of our bishops, archdeacons, and support services demonstrated that Oxford has some of the leanest staffing ratios in the Church of England in proportion to the numbers of clergy and parishes, and the population we serve.

We recognise the sacrificial giving of many in our parishes who work hard to meet their share contribution; and, far from ignoring the financial challenges, we are in regular, detailed discussions with those deaneries who are experiencing difficulties.

Our diocesan synod recently approved a new share scheme that comes into operation next year. Difficult decisions, no doubt, lie ahead; but we believe that this, combined with our ongoing deanery mission action-planning process, will help us to plan mission and ministry provision sustainably for the future.

ROSEMARY PEARCE
Oxford Diocesan Church House
North Hinksey Lane
Oxford OX2 0NB

 

From Mr Peter Osborne

Sir, - Your innominate correspondent calls attention to the shortfall in parish-share payments experienced by the diocese of Oxford last year, amounting to £900,000, and asks whether other dioceses have similar problems.

Canterbury has, and is experiencing similar problems. According to the diocesan board of finance's (DBF's) directors' report for 2012, filed with the Charity Commissioners, ". . . full provision was made in the accounts for the potential write-off of £1.329k of accumulated Parish Share Debt." The accounts further show that there is a deficit from previous years of £1,255,460.

My own parish was for some years paying between 80 and 90 per cent of its income in parish share - clearly an unsustainable burden. This year, the assessment is well in excess of our total income. This prompted our Gift Aid officer, a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society with an M.Sc. in statistical science, to examine the formula used to assess the parish share. He found anomalies, and posed a set of questions to the DBF based on his findings.

Whether the officers were unable or unwilling to answer those questions I do not know; but the reaction was "Shut up and pay up."

So, yes, I agree with your correspondent that the captains and their officers are steering their respective ships dangerously close to the rocks.

PETER OSBORNE
4 Mulberry Court, Stour Street
Canterbury CT1 2NT

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