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Letters to the Editor

by
12 April 2024

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Impact-investment fund: questions

From Monica Cooper

Sir, — As Professor Richard Dale points out (Comment, 22 March; Letters, 5 April), the South Sea Company annuities held by Queen Anne’s Bounty were indirect investments in government debt (akin to present-day gilts), not in slave-trading.

In fact, this crucial point is explicitly made deep in the body of the Church Commissioners’ report of January 2023. This explains that the Company annuities provided “a regular income derived from interest payments received from the Treasury on government debt”. These annuities “formed far and away its [the Bounty’s] most significant investment”.

The implications of this, however, are nowhere discussed, and this fundamental fact is completely absent from the Executive Summary, which instead chooses to emphasise the Company’s shocking but, in this case, irrelevant involvement in the slave trade.

But the Commissioners most probably do understand the point, as their public statements have all avoided making any explicit claim that the Bounty invested in the slave trade, while allowing the reader to infer that it did. (Probably the sole exception is a single sentence in the body of the report, which was quoted by Professor Dale; but this was written by a third-party contributor.)

The most recent example of the Commissioners’ approach is their briefing to the General Synod in February. There they simply stated without explanation that the Bounty had “significant investment” in the South Sea Company, following this with a description of the Company’s deplorable but, in this case, irrelevant engagement with the slave trade, allowing the unsuspecting reader to make a link between the two. There was no hint that the Bounty’s investment was in government debt, via the Company.

Given this consistent framing by the Commissioners, is it possible that, when the Trustees agreed the £100-million impact-investment fund, they believed — wrongly — that the Bounty invested significantly and for the long term in the slave trade? If so, will they now review that decision?

Or will they fall back on the Commissioners’ other delicately phrased claim — that many of the individual benefactors to the Fund “were, or may have been” linked to slavery and “so to some extent their benefactions may have been” derived from this source?

And how did the Commissioners come to this nebulous but damaging conclusion? Not, it appears, by investigating individual benefactors, but by looking for generic factors that, they thought, made a benefactor’s connection to slavery more likely.

The report is rather vague on the methodology, but it seems that the factors included having naval connections, or being in the House of Lords, or being linked to certain industries, or having links to Liverpool, or to Manchester, or to Bristol, or to London (where ten per cent of the population lived). It is not surprising that many benefactors fell into one or more of these categories.

Giving away £100 million is a serious responsibility. Did the trustees pay sufficient care and attention to the evidence with which they were presented?

MONICA COOPER
Address supplied


From Professor Andrew Chandler

Sir, — I was very surprised indeed not to find any reaction to Professor’s Dale’s vital article, “Slavery did not benefit Bounty”, in your correspondence pages the following week. And, when a letter did appear, in the issue of 5 April, it proved to be Professor Dale himself, pressing his point still more firmly, as if in a vacuum of interest.

I am left to wonder why the Church Commissioners, or Grant Thornton, did not ask Professor Dale for an authoritative view on the matter in the first place. As it is, the Church has presumably paid a commercial fee to an accountancy company and been rewarded with a flawed historical analysis, the financial consequences of which may prove to be immense.

Professor Dale deserves far more than silence. I, too, am waiting for a reply to his article. I cannot believe that we are the only people who care to see one.

ANDREW CHANDLER
Professor of Modern History
University of Chichester
Chichester PO19 6PE


Grant for
CRT’s social-action programme

From Mr Mark Elsdon-Dew

Sir, — Andrew Brown’s comments (Press, 5 April) about a government grant received by the Church Revitalisation Trust (CRT) during the pandemic were wholly misleading.

CRT was awarded a matched grant from the Government for a national social-action programme at a time of overwhelming need.

Our application had been on behalf of a consortium of 49 churches (of various denominations) across the UK, which were providing significant practical help for local communities at a time when millions were in need.

These 49 churches (which raised considerable sums to help to “match” the money received) acted as “hubs” for 1223 other, smaller churches and organisations to provide core services of crisis food provision, employment training, and debt advice. This was the “Love Your Neighbour” scheme (which continues to operate with charitable giving) and resulted in the provision of: more than 18 million free meals; employment support for more than 12,000 people; and debt advice for 9000 people.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the government department that ran the scheme, appointed a firm of accountants — BDO — to act as independent auditors to ensure that funds provided by the DCMS were used appropriately. BDO have declared themselves to be wholly satisfied that the funds were properly used.

MARK ELSDON-DEW
Communications Director
Holy Trinity Church
Brompton Road
London SW7 1JA


What forgiveness can be in a Rotherham context

From the Revd Dr Alan Billings

Sir, — The Revd Dr Stephen Cherry is absolutely right in saying that the Christian approach to forgiveness needs re-thinking, and much of what is often commended underestimates the complexity of situations and the degree of harm inflicted (Faith, 28 March).

For the past ten years, I have struggled with one aspect of this as Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, following the scandal of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham. How could an institution — the police — be reconciled to those it failed: victims of CSE and local communities? How could an organisation say sorry in a way that meant something to those who had been wronged, and enable a community’s trust and confidence to be restored? What part could victims play?

I chose to learn from the victims, forming a panel of Victims, Survivors and their Families. It was given that name by the young women themselves. They wanted to say that victims can, with care, become survivors. They also wanted to make clear that there are secondary victims of such crimes, including parents and siblings, especially younger sisters.

They wanted to see a humble police force that would listen to their experiences: how grooming worked, and why the girls did not understand at first that they were being abused.

The path back for the police has taken time. Saying sorry was necessary but hardly sufficient. There had to be demonstrable behavioural change. They had to learn to put the needs of victims before their own reputation.

The tensions between the different ethnic communities had to be worked on continually — a role for faith communities. The victims themselves are at different stages along a long road. Some still call themselves victims. Some say they are survivors. One told me last year that she now had a degree and a job, and saw herself as a thriver.

But the last thing that we needed in this process was someone coming along and saying that the victims should just “forgive”.

ALAN BILLINGS
Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire
Police Headquarters
Carbrook Hall Road
Sheffield S9 2EH


RUSI conference at Church House, Westminster

From Canon Nick Ralph

Sir, — I was dismayed to read about the attempt to use a lettings policy for Church House, Westminster (News, 5 April), as a stick to beat those trying to do their best to generate income to balance the books, as well as the Church more generally and the Government, in seeking to raise issues about Gaza and the use of the centre by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

As someone also fully committed to social justice, I am delighted that RUSI are using Church House as a conference centre. That seems exactly the right place for an organisation such as this to bring people together. RUSI is a defence and security think tank whose aim “is to inform, influence and enhance public debate to help build a safer and more stable world”. It would be good if more people would seek to do this, and if the Church were to facilitate it further. The idea of guilt by association would end up excluding almost everyone, besides eliminating much-needed debate.

What we don’t need are simplistic or knee-jerk reactions to complex issues or to seek to create divisions where there were none.

NICK RALPH
101 St Thomas’s Street
Old Portsmouth PO1 2HE


Impact of pastoral reorganisation in rural areas

From the Revd Ron Wood

Sir, — The Revd Campbell Paget’s article (Comment, 5 April) is saddening and alarming. We are a nine-parish, ten-church benefice. The Rector retires this year. The benefice will be divided among the surrounding benefices, two of them already in vacancy.

I am a retired priest, busy and active, taking two services each Sunday, too many funerals, and my share of weddings: five this year. I expressed my concerns about handling a vacancy to the Archdeacon, and received no acknowledgement. There is one licensed lay minister. So I have no idea what I will be asked to do in what might be a long vacancy. Other retired priests are already stretched to cover the vacancies around us, but leading worship is only a part of our calling. Pastoral visiting is important.

The diocese tells us little or nothing about its plans, and yes, each parish will still be expected to pay its Share towards the cost of the non-existent clergy.

RON WOOD
5 The Paddock, Galhampton
Somerset BA22 7AR


Suggestions for making guide dogs welcome

From Grace Illidge

Sir, — As a visually impaired Reader/LLM (now Emerita) with a guide dog, I have followed the recent discussions about dog-friendly cathedrals and churches (Feature, 1 March) with interest. I have never been refused admission to a church. Indeed, it would be against the law.

But there are one or two ways to make a visit a more positive experience: a bowl of water at the back of church, or a rug for the dog to lie on if the building has a cold, stone floor. Guide dogs are trained to cope with a number of situations, but they can be startled by very loud organ music or shrill, high-pitched sounds from a music group.

I would dispute (Letters, 8 March) that dogs cannot be regarded in any realistic sense as our “best friend”. My dog Hollie accompanied me to all my training sessions and lectures, sometimes in unfamiliar places that I would have found difficult to negotiate without her, and it was joked at my licensing that she, too, should have had a blue scarf.

Having to rely on her for guidance at all times has also taught me much about the nature of faith. I have to have “blind faith “ in my dog, just as I ought to have in the loving purposes of God.

GRACE ILLIDGE
11 Greaves Drive
Lancaster LA1 4UD

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