THE National Safeguarding Team of the Church of England has denied squandering two-thirds of its near-£600,000 budget for the long-awaited Safe Spaces project for abuse survivors.
It came after a Private Eye report suggested that hundreds of thousands of pounds that had been set aside for the support service had been “written off” in VAT and consultancy bills.
The Safe Spaces project was first mooted by survivors and supported by the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, in 2014, when he was lead bishop on safeguarding (News, 27 February 2015).
After years of delays and changes in management, a fresh plan to create the support service for survivors of church-related abuse across the C of E and the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales was presented to the General Synod in 2018. The Safe Spaces was to be co-funded with the RC Church.
An article investigating the cost of the project, published in Private Eye last month, however, stated that, “Since neither side was willing to leave the other in sole charge, they formed a jointly owned company called NewCo to commission and deliver Safe Spaces for both Churches. . . Because the service was being commissioned by an external firm rather than by the Church itself, it would be subject to VAT, thus writing off almost £100,000 of the £592,000 budget.”
It continued: “When a panel of experts and survivors met last month [November] to assess the bids, no suitable provider [to run the project] could be found. Once again, the entire Safe Spaces initiative has ground to a halt. So far it has cost the C of E at least £300,000, much of it in consultancy fees — while not a penny has gone to support survivors of clergy abuse.”
The article also stated that the Church had originally, for £70,000, employed a project manager to create a “bespoke” service, plans for which were rejected three times by senior Church officers before a new consultant was hired in 2018.
A spokesperson for the National Safeguarding Team said last Saturday that the £592,000 budget had been “ring-fenced”. “The delay in progressing the support service, first officially discussed in 2014, is a matter of regret that the Church of England acknowledges and apologises for. But since the appointment of a project manager and the creation of the Safe Spaces Management Board last year eight survivor representatives from across both Churches are involved in ensuring we find the right organisation to deliver the project. . .
“All grant money from both Churches and ATL [All Churches Trust] has been ring-fenced for the project and no money from the £592,000 grant has been spent to date, and no new company has been set up. Pre set-up costs, procurement, project management and development are separate to this and the cost is being shared across both Churches.
“Following an initial procurement process, the Board has agreed that it would not be recommending the appointment of a preferred supplier to deliver the project; this decision was taken in partnership with the survivor representatives.
“Over the coming weeks the Board in partnership with survivors will agree the next steps and the best way forward. Survivor voices remain central to any future success of this new service and their welfare and support is an absolute priority for the Church in its continuing safeguarding work.”
A survivor of clerical abuse, Gilo, wrote in a Twitter post that linked to the Private Eye article: “£300,000 wasted by C of E. No benefit yet to any survivors. And a curiously ‘nested’ procurement body — ‘independent’ yet also run from Church House and part of Archbishops’ Council. Synod will not be best pleased. Survivors will be bewildered.”