General Synod: Spence has ‘solution after ‘sticking-plaster budgets’

by
12 July 2019

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

The chairman of the finance committee, John Spence

The chairman of the finance committee, John Spence

THE General Synod approved the Archbishops’ Council’s budget and apportionment proposals for 2020.

The chairman of the finance committee, John Spence (Archbishops’ Council), said that the Council had had to take account of the severe financial pressures faced by dioceses. But it was a budget of opportunity and the Council was excited. He was “over the moon”. The “strategic solution” was here, after a series of “sticking plaster” budgets. He noted that decline in average weekly attendance continued, and that the Church’s age profile was 12 years older than the population at large. But that was not the whole story, because worshipping communities had been stable since 2014, and, in 2017,in 15 dioceses there had been growth as measured by that measure. He believed that the Church should increasingly focus on this measure, particularly as so many projects under SDF were not going to bring people into pews in services, but into more informal forms of church.

Since 2010, the number of planned givers had fallen by 16 per cent, though giving had increased per head. There was a need to penetrate new and more informal forms of churchgoing. “We have been under-developed in developing the business case for major investment in income generation.” There needed to be a much more concerted drive on stewardship to recruit givers among younger generations. There was enough equipment for every church to have a digital application — but take-up had been constrained.

Many parishes were able to pay their parish share only by drawing on reserves. In 2019, growth in parish share had been less than two per cent. The Archbishops’ Council had to consider the pressures on dioceses through factors beyond their control. Giving and parish incomes remained the greatest constraint on growth. “When we considered the budget principles, we were complete in the view that we had to review confidence.” It had been decided for this year alone to freeze apportionments to give a bit more breathing space to dioceses. Since 2014, the percentage of the budget funded from apportionment had reduced from 89 per cent to 70 per cent. Over the past two years, reserves had been drawn on to fund the increase in ordinands. The current number of those in training was the highest since 2008.

The take-away messages were, he said: “A recognition that there are major new funding streams available to us to invest in the growth of the Church in all places, that those funds still only account for a three-per-cent addition to the church economy, that we must continue to think about how we grow our income for years to come, and that we at the Archbishops’ Council take with utmost seriousness our responsibility for ensuring quality of spend for sustainable benefit. But, above all, I ask you to go forward with a message of confidence. This is about unlocking the Holy Spirit.”

Carl Hughes (Southwark) spoke of “unprecedented funding needs and constraints” across the Church. The advent of the additional triennium funding was most welcome, but should not result in a diversion from the drive for better stewardship. “We should be reminding ourselves that the vast majority of our resources are from members of our church families across the country.” It was important that the additional funding was applied according to need. Wealthier dioceses should consider whether they could do more to help those who had less.

Mr Spence said that this would be difficult to legislate for.

Keith Cawdron (Liverpool) noted that the Synod was voting on £46.9 million of budgeted expenditure by the Council, and yet total spending was £300 million over next three years. “This is really not a very satisfactory way of undertaking financial governance.” The extra money that had been made available by the Commissioners could be traced back to the 1990s, when the financial crisis facing the Commissioners had led to the decision to pass much of the responsibility for pensions to dioceses.

“I am a bit concerned that we have discovered the magic money tree. . . This has been made possibly by the increased burdens over that long period taken on by dioceses, by parishes. Every penny that the Archbishops’ Council spends . . . could have been spent in other ways, could have been used to mitigate pressure on parish share.” It was “no good having three new youth workers funded by SDF in a diocese if three of their parishes have had to cut down and make redundant their own youth workers. That is not progress. We need an honest and fuller picture of what is happening in our dioceses and parishes.”

Mr Spence said that this account of history was “entirely accurate”, with the exception of the failure to mention the “outstanding financial performance” of the Commissioners, which could be traced to the recruitment of “really high-quality personnel”.

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) a member of the Archbishops’ Council and chair of the Clergy Support Trust, spoke about the pressure on clergy, whose stipends and pensions were “constantly reduced in value”. What progress was being made on reviewing this?

Mr Spence said that the funds announced today were “all about ensuring that the Church continues to exist in places where it might be under threat”. To pay for salaries and pensions, there needed to be a growth in giving. “One could not deal with that issue out of the sums that are available here: it’s too big.” Work was under way tracking stipends; an increase was contingent on a growth in income.

SAM ATKINS/CHURCH TIMESSAM ATKINS/CHURCH TIMES

The Revd Bill Braviner (Durham), a diocesan disability adviser and co-founder of Disability and Jesus, welcomed evidence of an increase in support and advocacy for disabled people. Could the share allocated to this priority be made clear? He had also been heartened to hear that the hours of the national disability adviser for the whole Church were being increased from one to three days a week — though could even longer be required? One of the adviser’s responsibilities was producing a strategic plan: could there be assurance that wide consultation would accompany this, with diocesan disability advisers and others working in the field?

Mr Spence said that the Secretary General would provide this information. The Archbishops’ Council would continue to engage.

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, asked whether provision for work on the climate emergency was sufficient, given that this was “the greatest existential threat to our planet” and that the part played by faith communities was “absolutely key”.

Mr Spence said that the budget for this had been increased, but he warned against confusing “the dedicated resource identified here with the totality of effort that exists”. The Social Impact Fund might also be used in this area.

The Revd Dr Philip Plyming (Universities and TEIs) thanked the Synod for its ongoing commitment to ministerial training through Vote 1. The TEI sector was “enthusiastic” about the 50-per-cent increase in ordinands, who were increasingly under 30, equally male and female, and of a high quality. Clergy were not only being trained themselves, but being released to train and invest in others. But Vote 1 did not represent the true cost of training priests in the Church, Dr Plyming reminded the Synod. All TEIs had to find extra money to fund their core business of training ordinands, and as such he welcomed the Resourcing Ministerial Education review.

Gavin Oldham (Oxford) asked why there had been no attempt to implement his private member’s motion from two years ago, which called for greater centralisation of administration to save dioceses money. If there were not going to be efforts through the Dioceses Commission to create efficiencies, then the Archbishops’ Council must take on the task, he said. “I know we are very dispersed and we have 42 fiefdoms. But no organisation would run duplication of administration the way we do in this Church.”

Mr Spence said that although the Council had not undertaken a fundamental review of the centralisation of administration, there was discussion about what rationalisation could be implemented; but he did not detect much enthusiasm for anything significant from the national staff of the C of E.

The synod took note of the report.

Mr Spence moved the votes for Training for Ministry (£17,589,013) and National Church Responsibilities (£22,088,169), and these were carried.

He then moved Grants (£1,241,579).

Sam Margrave (Coventry) asked what work was being done to boost “ecclesiastical entrepreneurship” among parishes, which could help in developing new funding streams and effectively create a new “glebe for the next generation”.

Mr Spence replied that he would be happy to hear from Mr Margrave on the topic and agreed that it was vital to look beyond traditional forms of income generation. “I continue to yearn for the day we have, as in Blackburn, a cathedral gin in every cathedral,” he said. “Not least, so we can watch thousands of people travel round the country so they get the complete set. Mrs Spence in the gallery, please note: that is our holiday plan.”

The vote was carried.

Mr Spence then moved Mission Agency Pension Contributions (£697,742).

The Revd John Dunnett (Chelmsford) said that the figure of £697,000 might seem like small fry compared with the larger sums agreed in other lines of the budget, but it was a very significant and substantial figure for mission agencies, such as CPAS, which he led.

The vote was carried, as was the Clergy Housing Retirement Grant (£5,298,598).

The Synod then approved the proposals for apportionment to dioceses and for the pooling adjustment in respect of additional maintenance grants for ordinands (all set out in GS 2141).


Read full coverage of the General Synod here

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