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Letters to the Editor

24 November 2023


The SDF and who is paying for it

From the Revd Simon Smale FCA

Sir, — I read with great sadness, but, sadly, not surprise, the article regarding the “performance” of the Strategic Development Fund initiative (News, 17 November) coupled with your leader comment, showing a simple summary of SDF expenditure to date equating to £5800 per new worshipper.

May I offer another interpretation? Using the Church of England’s own figure of 12,500 parishes, the sum spent so far on SDF equates to £9280 per parish — all this at a time when many parishes (indeed, from my personal experience as both a former incumbent and former deanery financial adviser, most parishes) feel under continual pressure to increase their contribution to central diocesan funding while seeing their own active congregation numbers declining, and hence seeing the ability for raising funds diminishing.

In addition to this pressure, many parishes are struggling to find volunteers to cover key positions, and more are seeking to employ external professionals for such functions as treasurer and secretary, hence increasing parish costs. How much difference would a one-off £9000 contribution make to each parish, not least to its morale and hopes for the future?

Just over 20 years ago, Mission-shaped Church introduced the concept of a “mixed economy” of church, being both Inherited (i.e. parish) and Fresh Expression of Church. What is apparent from the vast spending on SDF is that this “mixed mode” is, in effect, over, especially when it comes to new funding, and the “inherited” church is left trying to support a self-sufficient model with little or no new central resources being ploughed in at the wider local level to support missional efforts and effectiveness.

Perhaps before all the £198 million allocated to SDF is spent, serious consideration should be given to using the remaining balance to support parish ministry in its inherited format. Not doing so could easily create a dangerous precedent of “them and us”, which, history shows us, never ends well.

Former Whitby deanery financial adviser, diocese of York
68 Cardigan Road
Bridlington YO15 3JT

From Dr Phillip Rice

Sir, —The SDF-payback editorial comment puts it nicely: the Church Commissioners, having had actuarial difficulties, were husbanding investments for future generations. I believe that we need to unpick this a little. There is a tension here over when the reserves that are built up are deemed to be in surplus and when what is allocated is merely prudent to be held in reserve.

But this is not semantics, over the actuarial difficulties: the Strategic Development Fund unlocked £198 million between 2014 and 2021 and invested it — when, otherwise, more surplus reserves would, in all likelihood, have been created. At this point, I take exception to describing SDF expenditure as, in effect, borrowing from future generations. No.

Lesson one: if the surplus in the (distributable) reserve was too high, it can only be too high because the precept on the then current (2014 to 2021) generation has been too high. This represents a world in which incoming resources are either consumed or put into investment (in the form of more reserves).

Lesson two: the level at which the precept is set in turn feeds back on what is, in effect, the contribution required from the dioceses, and so from parishes. Over-reserving is a burden on the contributors in the time period that they are given.

So, let us not have the mantra of “borrowing from future generations”. It is “taking from the current generation of contributors”. Hence, setting the reserving policy on a highly conservative actuarial view of reserve required for the future is setting the contribution required now too high. If the contribution required now is too high, then SDF can be redistributive. That is, SDF is paying back to dioceses in the form of grants and funding schemes for parishes (as in 2014 to 2021). Perhaps the SDF redistribution can be seen as happening after a delay of a couple of years, but delay brings the advantage of selection of the best schemes.

Finally, I want to express my view that the decision to go with SDF for 2014 onwards was prescient, and opened up a period of strategic planning, flowing through into diocesan thinking for major-change programmes. It enabled a decade of more carefully thought-out grant-giving (and bidding). I accept that the church-political choice of how to unpick the best bidders from the best schemes will be ongoing work in hand for the next decade in the successors to SDF with Strategic Transformation Funding and Strategic Capacity Funding.

Retired economist
23 Christchurch Square
London E9 7HU

HVM Catapult and its German counterpart

From Professor Barry Jones

Sir, — It was good to read the interview with Katherine Bennett, chief executive officer of HVM Catapult (17 November). The Catapult network is a good, but very belated, effort by UK governments to try to help upgrade British industry with appropriate science and technology through research, development, and innovation, particularly in the many small and medium-size enterprises. But there are currently only nine Catapults, with an additional network of seven centres in total.

For many years, I had close contact with German industry and the long-established Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (FG) leading applied-research organisations. There are currently around 76 FG institutes and research units throughout Germany, with around 31,000 employees in total, mostly working on contract research with German industry and with the support of many German universities. UK Catapult network expenditure is only about one tenth that of FG expenditure in Germany.

Without a sufficient base of continuing science research, development, technology and innovation, high-value and appropriate home-manufactured products, services, and UK government taxes will not grow and, indeed, may decline, and debt will continue to increase — all this leading to yet further reduction in the quality of life chances for many British citizens in our present harsh “trickle-up” economy, which continuously increases inequality, unfairness, and poverty.

The present Catapult network remains a relatively small contribution in the right direction, but it is something really worth while to pray for and act upon, so as, we may hope, to support some real “trickle-down” from the British economy in due course.

Stancombe House
38 Moorlands Road
Malvern WR14 2UA

Safeguarding review sought by Dr Martyn Percy

From Messrs David Lamming, Martin Sewell, and Richard Scorer

Sir, — The C of E announcement of a new Christ Church review (News, 10 November) some three years after Dr Martyn Percy first complained of “the deliberate weaponisation of safeguarding with intent to cause harm to me, perpetrated by senior clergy, church lawyers, and church PR” is not to be given an unqualified welcome, as many might expect.

When asked at the sessions in York in July, the Archbishop of York reassured the General Synod: “We hope, in the near future, to be in a position to consult all interested parties on a proposed way forward. . . we should consult all of the interested parties first before making further details public.”

It will surprise no survivor of church abuse that there has been no such consultation: only a letter to Dr Percy 48 hours in advance of the public announcement on 2 November, and no opportunity to make representations.

Furthermore, the Review is to take place within the limited scope of the Safeguarding Practice Reviews Code of Practice (approved by the Synod in July after just ten minutes’ debate). The code makes clear that reviews are not a judicial process designed to establish guilt: “If people think they are, they will inevitably be disappointed and frustrated.”

Dr Percy does not want “lessons learnt”; he wants those he alleges to have abused church procedures against him to be held to account. The prelude to this is a proper investigation. Whether he be right or wrong, such serious allegations need to be faced and determined with a proper forensic inquiry on agreed terms drafted by impartial people with no conflicts of interest, either actual or reasonably perceived.

One of those named as a member of the review group is Sir Roger Singleton. Whatever his qualifications for such a task, his previous position as C of E Interim Director of Safeguarding in 2019 means that he cannot be perceived as appropriately disinterested when Dr Percy’s complaints are in part directed against the NST. Moreover, his line manager was the Secretary General, who is numbered among the potential respondents to Dr Percy’s complaint. Accordingly, we would suggest that he recuse himself.

DAVID LAMMING, General Synod member 2015-21; MARTIN SEWELL, General Synod member; RICHARD SCORER, Head of Abuse Law and Public Inquiries, Slater & Gordon
c/o 8 Appleshaw Close
Gravesend, Kent DA11 7PB

An inappropriate metaphor in the circumstances

From the Revd Dr Charlie Bell

Sir, — During last week’s General Synod debate on the blessing of same-sex couples, the Bishop of Lancaster repeatedly used the phrase “targets on their backs” to refer to clergy and lay people who, she suggested, would be vulnerable to legal challenge for not making use of opt-in blessings. From a purely academic point of view, this suggestion is plainly untrue and is little more than scaremongering; but underlying the use of this phrase is something far more sinister.

Twenty years ago, Gene Robinson was ordained and consecrated a bishop in the United States. During the service, he wore a bulletproof vest, because he did indeed have a target on his back. Those of us who are queer face genuine violence, hate, and occasionally death, even in this country, by virtue of simply being ourselves. In the wider Anglican Communion the threats are greater and more frequent. Conversely, you will not be spat at, verbally or physically assaulted, or killed for simply being a conservative Evangelical.

I would strongly urge that members of the General Synod, and our bishops in particular, pay more attention to the power and dangerous nature of this kind of loose talk. I would encourage the Bishop of Lancaster to make a full, unqualified apology for and retraction of these words in public at the earliest possible opportunity.

Girton College
Cambridge CB3 0JG

Key issue: the vital clue came from Bishop Aitken

From the Revd Richard and Mrs Penny Stranack

Sir, — Prompted by the Revd David Goodacre’s article (Comment, 17 November), we recalled our attempt to visit a church in Kent many years ago. It was locked, but we enjoyed admiring from the outside the richness of its architectural history revealed in the walls, windows, and roofs.

Returning to the porch, we recalled a visitation address by Bishop Aubrey Aitken of Lynn in the 1970s, in which he said: “One day I expect to go to a church and see a notice pinned to the door saying ‘For security reasons, the church is kept locked. The key is under the mat.’”

There being no mat, we felt behind the suspended notice board and were well rewarded. The “hidden” key admitted us to an oasis of peace as we sat to pray in one of the 18th-century box pews. Finally, we enjoyed responding to the invitation to sign the visitors’ book, indicating the time, as well as the date, of our visit, before locking the church and returning the key.

8 Sunwine Place, Exmouth
Devon EX8 2SE

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