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Archbishop quizzed about selection of Appointments Secretary

10 February 2022

LAMBETH PALACE

Stephen Knott

Stephen Knott

THE Archbishop of Canterbury faced persistent challenges, during General Synod Questions on Tuesday, about the appointment process for the new Archbishops’ Secretary for Appointments, Stephen Knott (News, Letters, 14 January).

Mr Knott’s appointment was announced last month, nine weeks after the announcement that his predecessor, Caroline Boddington, was stepping down (News, 5 November 2021). He has been part of the Lambeth Palace staff team since 2013, filling several positions, including those of assistant and then deputy chief of staff from 2016.

In a written reply to a question about the process, the Archbishop said that Mr Knott’s recruitment was “in line with current best practice for all vacant or significantly reshaped roles within the National Church Institutions (NCIs) during this change.

“The post was advertised internally across the National Church Institutions’ networks and open to all employees. Full details, including job description were publicly available. . . A number of experienced and potentially appointable NCI staff applied, and all who applied were invited to interview. . . The independent interview panel of five lay members and one retired bishop reflected the other stakeholders in the process within the church structures and Government.”

Archbishop Welby confirmed that, “to the extent that it is proper to do so, given obligations under GDPR and personal pastoral confidentiality”, documents concerning the appointment, including the job description, would be made available to Synod members.

The Archbishop was asked by the Revd Dr Tom Woolford (Blackburn): “What particular consideration was given to ensure that Global Majority Heritage (GMH) candidates applied, and that the way the post was filled complied with equal-opportunities legislation?”

The Archbishop referred to an NCI programme “aimed at improving diversity at all levels of the workforce”, and said that around 15 per cent of the NCI workforce was from a GMH background. He also referred to the fact that “significant numbers of redundancies” were being made: “There is always a tension between seeking to minimise the number of people who may lose a job which would incline you toward internal advert and seeking to get the greatest possible diversity.”

It is not clear how many of the NCIs’ GMH employees were of sufficient seniority to be meet the job description’s requirements.

During a debate on racial justice earlier in the day, the Archbishop was critical of the appointments process in the Church: “You can’t say ‘I want someone like me.’. . . I have sat through so many occasions where it’s ‘yes, they are wonderful, but just not here, and not now.’ That’s got to change.”

Another Synod member, Rebecca Chapman (Southwark), used question time to quiz the Archbishop about her own employment record at Lambeth Palace.

She asked the Archbishop to confirm that “prior to appointing Mr Knott to this role, you were aware of the contents of the lawyer’s report sent to your office in April 2017, which explicitly lays out seven identified breaches of employment law perpetrated by Mr Stephen Knott when dealing with my return to work at Lambeth Palace following maternity leave, and whether or not you shared that information with the panel who approved Mr Knott for this role.”

After hearing Mrs Chapman’s question, the session’s chair, Debbie Buggs (London), said that it contained “imputation” and “shouldn’t be asked”. The Archbishop need not reply. This was later challenged by Jayne Ozanne (Oxford), to a “Hear, hear” and applause from the floor.

Mrs Chapman was executive assistant to the Bishop at Lambeth when she went on maternity leave in 2016. She returned as communications co-ordinator the next year, and left Lambeth Palace employment that November.

The lawyer’s report, a private legal opinion prepared by a solicitor, Jane Stuart-Smith, has been seen by Church Times. It says: “Two days before Rebecca Chapman’s return to work she had no job, no office and there appeared to be no serious attempt to address the situation by her line managers. Rebecca Chapman made all the running and found a creative solution to a situation that was totally unacceptable.

“Lambeth Palace narrowly avoided a tribunal claim for sex discrimination, unfair dismissal and breach of the Part Time Workers regulations and breach of the Maternity and Paternity Leave Regulations. Fortunately, the situation was resolved because she took the initiative.”

It does not name Mr Knott and the Church Times understands that while his duties included the administration of HR duties, he was not responsible for decisions taken. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Lambeth Palace said: “Rebecca Chapman was a valued employee who remained in post and later went on to leave her role at Lambeth Palace on good terms.

“HR and line managers work together to ensure that our people management processes meet our legal obligations and emphasise employee well-being with the support of the organisation. We work to ensure that our approach to cases recognises both the often complex individual circumstances and relevant legislation.

“We do not recognise the claims made at Synod, which formed part of a question that was ruled out of order.”

Ms Stuart-Smith’s report was paid for by Mrs Chapman’s husband, who in a letter, also seen by the Church Times, informed the Archbishop that he would be providing a pot of £20,000 to enable access for staff at Lambeth Palace to legal employment advice and guidance if needed. Mrs Chapman confirmed on Tuesday that it had been used by staff.

Also during Tuesday’s Questions session, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, confirmed that, in recruiting the Third Church Estates Commissioner, Canon Flora Winfield, currently the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Adviser on Reconciliation, “high-calibre search consultants” had been instructed to identify a “longlist of exceptional and diverse candidates”. The post had been advertised externally.

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