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Spence: Not broke, but we’re broken

17 July 2015



Sam Atkins

Lakeside: the debating chamber at the University of York, where the General Synod holds its summer sessions

Lakeside: the debating chamber at the University of York, where the General Synod holds its summer sessions

THE Archbishops’ Council’s budget and proposals for apportionment for 2016 came before the Synod on Sunday evening.

The Council’s finance director, John Spence, said that he needed to explain to the Synod what he was doing to fix the budget for 2016. "The model is broken, and we will revert to you with the 2017 budget with a more sustainable solution," he said. Spending in grants to the Anglican Communion had slightly increased, and there was also a small rise in spending on clergy housing, which had been agreed earlier in the quinquennium.

Vote 1 spending on ministerial training had been increased to account for a hoped-for increase in ordinands from September 2016. The largest rise, however, was in Vote 2, for support for the national Church. Mr Spence said that this part of the budget was up five per cent from 2015 to £12.1 million. Also, the Archbishops’ Council had already overspent in 2015, because they needed more staff for safeguarding than they had expected.

"2016 takes account of the increase in that staffing, and also to undertake other projects at Church House," he said. The dioceses were being asked to cover 83 per cent of the spending under Vote 2 — a total of £10.1 million, which is a 2.2-per-cent increase on last year.

The model was broken because, without rent relief from the Church Commissioners and dipping into the reserves, the Archbishops’ Council would have to ask for an even larger increase in funding from the dioceses, Mr Spence told the Synod. "If we are to ensure that we have the engine room at the centre which facilitates the power of the dioceses, we simply cannot go on in that way."

The Council had tried to minimise the burden on the dioceses, he said, and the increases asked for in the past five years had all been below inflation. "I will work with colleagues to provide a basis for a sustainable budget regime going forward."

Philip French (Rochester) asked about the overspend on IT: "How was this so grossly underestimated?" He harked back to the recommendations of the 2007 IT service review of the Archbishops’ Council, to which he had contributed. Had they been implemented at all? He hoped for a rapid move to digital solutions and a commitment to supporting Synod members with IT support.

Peter Bruinvels (Guildford) expressed concern that the money allocated to safeguarding was not sufficient: "I think there are going to be major other issues coming before us." He also wanted to query whether the clergy-discipline team was sufficiently resourced, noting the likely costs of the Pemberton case: "We must recognise that our bishops are having major costs."

Mr Spence agreed that "we do have a lot of work to do in the IT space." He explained that a new head of IT had been appointed a year ago, who had immediately identified things that needed to be done that could not wait for a new budget.

He also agreed that safeguarding resourcing was "not sufficient". The new national head of safeguarding had been asked to review a "long-term sustainable resourcing solution. . . The prime responsibility for safeguarding lies with the diocese, but it would be untenable for the Church at the centre if anything were to go wrong in a diocese to absolve itself from any central responsibility."

He concluded: "We won’t wait for the budget to put in place the resources necessary to give this issue the highest priority."

The Revd Dr Patrick Richmond (Norwich) asked whether the Synod could have been given "more warning that there was bad news in the pipe". He sought information about progress on projections and models for the Reform and Renewal proposals, particularly in regard to future numbers of ordinands. If this was possible for pensions and CHARM, then he hoped that it was possible to apply a "similar level of rigour" to the Reform and Renewal proposals. "If ordinands do not materialise, will the extra funds be directed in other places, so that the extra funds might help with some of the financial challenges we are facing?"

He also asked whether the Church Census described was additional to the Everyone Counts one. Finally, he asked what support was being provided to dioceses that lacked the capacity to produce vision strategies.

Mr Spence said that, with regard to Reform and Renewal, "we are undertaking detailed modelling in terms of Resourcing Ministerial Education". The Archbishops’ Council had a financial planning group, which had already met. There was a challenge to "think through what does that modelling look like".

If the Commissioners did release funds to assist a "surge" in ordinand training, "it will be given for a precise reason, not to enable us to use the money as we wish." The Council hoped to make this approach to the Commissioners in the autumn.

He confirmed that support was being made available to dioceses that needed help to develop vision strategies. The census would cost £50,000 to provide "more comprehensive information". He argued that he had "made it clear last year that I had to present a sticking-plaster budget, and that is the case this year". But he emphasised that "the Church is not bust." Nevertheless, as things stood, it might be necessary to ask the dioceses for "a significantly higher level of increase than we want to".

In response to a question from Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich), Mr Spence explained that the £113,250 contribution from the Pensions Board to the communications budget was "their contribution towards the common resource that works for them".

Mr Alderton-Ford also raised a concern about plans to place all clergy vacancies on a central website. He said that this would jeopardise the advertising revenue of The Church of England Newspaper and the Church Times. Mr Spence said that this was "a point well worth being made".

Mr Spence was "utterly sympathetic" to a request from Penelope Allen (Lichfield) for the titles "Votes 1-5" in the budget to be replaced with more meaningful titles. He said that this was "shorthand that sometimes we get used to".

In answer to additional questions from Mrs Allen, Mr Spence said that a "modest sum" was made available for online training, but that this was "not enough to make a difference". The amount allocated to Fresh Expressions was to support the national support office rather than individual Fresh Expressions, which were, he said, "a responsibility for the dioceses".

Mr Spence agreed with Robin Stevens (Chelmsford) that the word "stewardship", which was used in the budget twice, was about more than simply "funding the Church of England". Mr Stevens suggested substituting "Christian giving".

Gavin Oldham (Oxford) asked for the policy on legacies to be revisited. A few years ago, he said, it had been felt that the central Church should not seek legacies, because these were something that should benefit the local level. "Things have changed since then."

Mr Spence said that "the parish and diocese should take precedence," but there had been a recent upturn in giving to "the Church as a whole".

In Votes 1-5, the Synod approved the Archbishops’ Council’s expenditure in 2016 in the following areas: Training for ministry: £13,488,475; National support: £12,153,987; Grants and provisions: £1,272,082; Mission agencies’ clergy pension contributions: £787,950; and CHARM Scheme: £4,359,170.

The Synod also approved the Table of Apportionment contained in the budget report, which allocates how the diocesan-funded part of the budget will fall on individual dioceses.

The amount being requested from the dioceses in 2016 — £29,930,432 — represents an average increase of 2.5 per cent. London diocese will face the biggest increase, at 3.5 per cent; while the smallest percentage increase will fall on Birmingham, at 1.2 per cent.

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