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Methodist Conference: Backing for one safeguarding service

05 July 2024

Pat Ashworth reports on proceedings at the Conference in Leeds

THE METHODIST CHURCH  

The Methodist Conference, a general view

The Methodist Conference, a general view

THE Conference voted by a large majority on Tuesday for a resolution that will mean the Methodist Church will move to a single safeguarding service for the whole Church.

The move is intended to address inconsistencies and potential conflicts of interest in the current practice of districts’ employing their own safeguarding officers (DSOs) at local level. At present, these have no direct reporting line to the Connexional (national) safeguarding team, giving rise to concern that they are employed in the area and by the people about whom concerns could be reported.

The President, who chaired the debate, told Judith Davey-Cole, who chairs the safeguarding committee: “Your work is hard and difficult. It is not glamorous, but it is really appreciated by the Conference.”

The committee’s report notes that the Church of England’s decision, after the Jay review, to consider removing all safeguarding operations from the Church and setting up an independent charity to undertake all aspects of safeguarding. “The safeguarding committee is not in favour of this approach for a number of reasons, but primarily because it blurs lines of accountability and responsibility,” the report says. “The Methodist Survivors’ Group are very opposed to this as an approach.”

The Revd Andrew Brazier brought a notice of motion that called for a further year’s consultation, to include DSOs, to explore a further range of possibilities. He said that the consultation’s approach had been “overly limited and may fail to achieve the best safeguarding structure and practice to build for the future”.

Its apparent focus on service standards and employment structures offered a limited approach to an issue that should principally be seen as being about transparency of standards and clear guidance at Connexional level, his paper argued.

The Conference Financial Committee opposed the motion on the grounds that there had been extensive consultation on the proposals, and the DSOs had already been consulted. It was unclear what further issues would be highlighted. Consultation with staff affected would “follow in due course as part of the restructuring process”, it said.

“A further round of consultation will require additional resources of time, and create delays to the implementation of the improvements anticipated from making the changes. The impact on Connexional and District staff who will have a year’s delay to answers about their future roles could have a detrimental impact on their well-being,” the committee concluded.

Mr Brazier’s motion was seconded by Laura Tunnacliffe, who questioned whether the consultation had been simply a fact-finding exercise: the two should be distinguished. Many DSOs were not church-based but were in the statutory sector — the consultation had not extended to them, she suggested. Other speakers emphasised the importance of DSOs’ proximity to the people in their localities, who “knew their people”.

The conference voted 61 for and 147 against accepting the Notice of Motion. It went on to vote 185 for and 25 against the move to a single service at national level. The President invited all present to “stand and sing, and to pray for all after the vote we have just taken”. They sang the hymn “Every fallen sparrow matters in the Father’s heart above.”

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