Being chair of the Pensions Board occupies about one day
a week. It's a part time non-executive role. I chair the
meetings of the board itself, and attend many of the board
I work with the chief executive to develop strategy, and
to provide her with a sounding-board. I plan board agendas with her
and the board secretary, and make sure that the major decisions we
take are well prepared and taken in a timely way. I work with my
counterparts in the Church Commissioners and the Archbishops'
Council on matters of common interest, and act as an ambassador for
the board at General Synod and elsewhere.
I'm retired, multiply employed and self-employed -
simultaneously. Since I left the Civil Service about ten
years ago, I've done a variety of part-time non-executive jobs. As
well as chairing the Pensions Board, I'm currently deputy chair of
my local hospitals trust, a member of the Gibraltar Financial
Services Commission (which regulates financial services there), and
chair of governors of a local school. I've also been a director of
an insurance company until recently, and a member of the regulatory
body for solicitors; and I do some other things for the church
The Pensions Board exists to provide clergy and other church
workers good-quality pensions. The bill to dioceses and
other church employers is significant, because good-quality
pensions are not cheap. In addition, we're paying off a deficit
from earlier years, and everyone is living longer.
We manage pension funds of approaching £2 billion to fund future
pension payments. We must manage the pension schemes
prudently in the interests of the beneficiaries, but we also aim to
manage the funds so as to keep down the cost to employers, without
exposing them to undue risk. In the end, it's for the General Synod
to decide the balance between quality of pension offered and its
affordability. We also have charitable funds of some £100 million,
which are principally used to provide retirement housing for clergy
who need it.
As we live longer, in better health, so both the need to
retire and the economics of retirement and pensions point toward
later retirement ages for many; but this has to be done flexibly to
take account of different personal and health circumstances. And
the Church of England relies heavily on the continued active
ministry of retired clergy.
Financially, we have to balance the number of years people
work and contribute to their pensions, on the one hand,
and, on the other, the number of years they draw their pensions
after their formal retirement date.
I grew up in Bournemouth and studied science at
university, though my parents were both art-college teachers. I'm
married to Caroline, who has been a lay member of General Synod for
nearly 20 years. She's also a lay member of the Canterbury
Cathedral Chapter, and contributes much around the diocese, too. We
live near Canterbury, and have three grown-up children, all
involved in the performing arts. I'm also a keen musician myself: I
play the viola.
My energy is partly inherited and partly good fortune,
and I've always had a foot in both of C. P. Snow's Two Cultures
camps. As a child, I was clearly seen as a potential scientist, but
I grew up in a household of artists, and my wife is a historian by
training; so she's stimulated my interest in things
I'm gradually reducing the number of things I do, but I
don't expect to be fully retired before I'm 70. It's important not
to stay too long in any one role, and to keep moving on, to find
new interests and challenges.
I enjoy trying to keep the house up and the garden down -
we have quite a lot of both - and much enjoy living where we do. I
love the sound of house martins that nest under the eaves of our
We like travelling in France, Italy, and the Scottish
The decisions of the hospitals trust board of which I am a member
are genuinely strategic. We have to balance the funds
available to us against the number of staff we employ, to deliver a
high-quality service. Always you have to achieve the best you can
with what you've got.
We have about a million interactions with patients every
year. You must aim for them all to be perfect, but you
know not all can possibly be so; so it's about managing risks,
learning from mistakes, approaching patients with compassion. Quite
a lot of my professional background in the civil service was
finance; so the general principles were straightforward.
If you've been a senior civil servant, you have to have
learnt how to pick up new and complicated things very quickly. I
led the country's insurance regulation for some years, and didn't
have any experience of this before I took it on. But I had good
support from staff, and I'm reasonably bright, and reasonably quick
on the uptake. You talk to expert people to find out what they do
and how things work, and apply your own judgement.
I started off as a school parent-governor 25 years ago.
You're doing three things as a school governor: holding the head to
account for the quality of education, seeking to ensure resources
are used to good effect, and helping with strategy. These are the
classic functions of a non-executive role.
I'm very rarely angry. Anger doesn't help much to find
solutions to the myriad of problems the world faces. If I am angry,
it is usually about life's trivia, such as wrecking a car tyre in a
If I could change two things in the world? I would reduce
inequalities at home and globally. And I would decarbonise energy
production by 2050.
Anyone who's a Christian has to be concerned about the disparity
of wealth across the planet. How much any of us can do
anything about it is another thing. But at a personal level I think
you have to try to do what you can to ameliorate it.
The challenge of climate change is that its effects are
felt decades after the emissions that cause them. This makes it
particularly difficult for governments and policy-makers, because
it requires unpalatable actions now to avert harm to society many
years later. The planet will become a markedly less pleasant place
for people to live if we don't address this challenge significantly
over the next decade. Western society as it's developed is heavily
dependent on cheap and easily accessible supplies of energy; so
it's a very big challenge.
As it happens, the Pensions Board, the Church
Commissioners, and Archbishops' Council - the National Investing
Bodies [NIBS] - some years ago created the Ethical Investment
Advisory Group [EIAG]. The EIAG is working intensively on a report,
likely to be published later this year, giving its advice to the
NIBs on how they should respond to the challenge of climate change.
We seek to engage with businesses whose ethics we don't altogether
share rather than to disinvest. I shouldn't pre-empt the EIAG's
advice on climate change, but you can expect a similar approach
We've tried to make changes at a personal level, too. My
wife is insistent that we avoid flying if we can, because
decarbonising aviation is probably the hardest bit to do.
I'm happiest when I'm walking with Caroline, and my
family if they're around, in beautiful countryside around the Stour
valley where we live, or anywhere on holiday.
My family influenced me most, of course. But my physics
teacher kindled my interest in science for the next decade, and,
more surprisingly, my interest in government, where I ended up
working for 30 years. The head of modern languages at school never
taught me French, but did teach me the viola. And the late Michael
Saward, our vicar in Ealing, where we lived when we were first
married, brought me to faith.
I have a particularly soft spot for the autobiographies of Leonard
Woolf, which I first read in my twenties. He was a man of
huge personal integrity and honesty, who founded the Hogarth Press,
and was influential in helping the emergent Labour Party between
the wars to grapple intelligently with foreign-policy issues. And
he has a remarkable prose style, which is both spare and
I pray for the health and happiness of family and
friends, and for a more peaceful world.
If I was locked in Canterbury Cathedral, I'd probably choose to be
with Archbishop Lanfranc, who rebuilt the cathedral after
the Norman Conquest. As well as exploring the nature of the life
spiritual, as lived in the fairly lawless world of the 11th
century, it would be fascinating to get his reaction to the soaring
Gothic and Perpendicular forms of the later cathedral.
Jonathan Spencer was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.
Correction: the website for Inclusive Church (Interview, 6
February) is www.inclusive-church.org.uk