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General Synod: Priorities for new money are clergy, mission, and growth

12 July 2019

Madeleine Davies, Adam Becket, and Tim Wyatt report from the General Synod in York


The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker

THE Synod received a presentation from the Triennium Funding Working Group on Monday afternoon.

Introducing it, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said that it was the first time that the representatives from the House of Bishops, Archbishops’ Council, and Church Commissioners had gathered to plan spending together. To spend the new money that the Commissioners had identified, the House had come up with three priorities: recruiting and training more clergy; supporting mission in the poorest communities; and growth programmes in dioceses.

The First Church Estates Commissioner, Loretta Minghella, explained how the Commissioners had worked out they could distribute extra money. Currently, £125 million was spent on pensions each year, and £105 million was spent on core funding for dioceses, bishops, cathedrals, and administration. This would total about £800 million between 2017 and 2019, about 15 per cent of the Church of England’s total running costs.

The Commissioners needed to be confident that the Church would be able to continue its mission to the nation for the coming centuries and had to be “even-handed” in their support of the Church of today and tomorrow. This was complex and involved juggling assessments of how much money was available, how much their assets would increase, and how much inflation would go up by, she said.

The great change in the latest actuarial review had been to change the measure of inflation from RPI (Retail Price Index) to CPIH [consumer price inflation including owner-occupiers’ housing costs], which was now seen as a more reliable way of counting it. This meant that the Commissioners could distribute an extra £155 million over the next three years. “This will extend and retract, and the size of the pot will increase and decrease according to market performance of the fund and other factors at each triennial review,” Ms Minghella said.

Most of this extra money would be granted to the Archbishops’ Council to spend on its agreed priorities, including a new £20-million social-impact investment fund. The amount of this additional distribution would change over the years, but it meant that the current generation could enjoy some of the fruits of the past decade of “enormous growth” in the Commissioners’ fund.

The Archbishops’ Council’s finance director, John Spence (Archbishops’ Council), explained how they would spend their funds over the next three years. Their spending was not constrained by the generosity of the Commissioners, but by the failure of parishes and dioceses to increase their own income through giving.

SAM ATKINS/CHURCH TIMESJohn Spence, the chairman of the finance committee

For lower-income-community funding, they would spend £82 million, and for strategic development funding (SDF), another £82 million. These second grants would focus on areas of poverty, younger people, and other parts of the country where the C of E had been absent in the past. Three examples of this were work by the diocese of Coventry with people in their twenties and thirties, an Ely diocesan project in market towns, and the diocese of London’s projects on youth work.

The funding for the digital team at Church House, Westminster, would increase from £2 million to £5 million. The team had won 15 national awards and would have trained 2000 churches in social-media and internet use by the end of 2019. For ordinands, the Council could promise that the Synod Vote 1 funding would not increase by more than inflation, and the full cost, including maintenance, for all extra ordinands up to 2025 would be met by the Council. They were also arranging central finances so that the surge of assistant curates which was coming soon would be funded and guaranteed for the next four triennia, “so every diocese can plan on the ability for the funding of additional curates certain in the knowledge once they know what their plans are those funds will be available.”

Up to ten dioceses would benefit from a new £45-million fund for diocesan sustainability. The Council was already assessing which dioceses needed this money for long-term restructuring. The new social-impact fund, worth £20 million, would act as a revolving sum. Each grant would be aimed at bringing back a return so that the central pot was not depleted over time. “It is easy to downplay the importance of these developments,” Mr Spence concluded. “The Church Commissioners have freed up a very large sum of money, enabling the Church to build on our wonderful ambitions to put Christ at centre of people’s lives.”

The Archdeacon of Bournemouth, the Ven. Dr Peter Rouch (Winchester), asked about section 29 of the paper. The pipeline approach was a very important tool, he said, and the transfer of resources between dioceses needed to happen earlier.

SAM ATKINS/CHURCH TIMESThe Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin, thanked the working group for its “generous” approach to funding. He wondered about the long-term realities of funding over the next few years. He said that this was particularly in relation to the financial sustainability of the dioceses: Lincoln had assets of £100 million, yet received £1 million in link grant; and Winchester diocese has few assets, but gave £1 million back.

Gavin Oldham (Oxford) asked about SDF: he was calling for an independent and objective assessment of this programme, and wondered whether Mr Spence could bring this assessment forward.

Mr Spence replied that dioceses would always be encouraged to talk to each other over the flow of clergy. He wondered whether dioceses could mutually help each other, without support from the Council, and said that it had been a repeated theme of Synod questions that the Council needed to get stronger on the amounts given to dioceses. The Church had learnt a lot about the space between allocating funds and their being spent. Only £35 million from the SDF had so far been spent; so an assessment could not take place until 2021. He was very happy that the Strategic Investment Board was keeping a close eye on investments through the SDF. Risks, however, had to be taken.

Julie Dziegiel (Oxford) praised the Lord for the decision of the Church Commissioners to change its inflation rate to CPIH, and asked whether the reasoning behind this could be communicated to dioceses.

Canon Giles Goddard (Southwark) said that he was particularly excited about the social-impact fund, but said that markets were currently volatile

The Revd Tiffer Robinson (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) asked whether they were monitoring the amount of stipendiary posts available.

Ms Minghella replied that there was continuous dialogue between the NCIs and dioceses over financial best practice. The targets weren’t too high, she said.

Mr Spence suggested that a truncated presentation could be used for diocesan synods. It would be irresponsible for the Church to create more curates than there were spaces. He was conscious that some dioceses were already having to make sustainabilities, hence the diocesan sustainability fund.

Mary Durlacher (Chelmsford) asked the Council to consider the urgent needs of church primary schools.

The Revd Barry Hill (Leicester) asked about diocesan equity. Some people he spoke to in wealthier dioceses said that they were not legally able to transfer funds.

Debbie Buggs (London) asked whether more money could go to safeguarding.

Dr Walker said that SDF grants were being allocated to schools in Manchester diocese.

Mr Spence said: “We will spend what we need to spend on safeguarding. We will do what we need to do.”

The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said that what had been proposed assumed stasis in terms of what dioceses did, and asked whether any thought had been given to more radical reorganisation.

Responding, Dr Walker said that a significant amount of money had been put aside for big reorganisations of dioceses, as seen in Leeds diocese. The Council would be more “canny” in the future when it came to diocesan reorganisation.

Read full coverage of the General Synod here

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