Wednesday, December 19, 2012

CofE press office overdrive - burying bishops expenses?

There's an end of term torrent of press releases from the Church of England media centre, including a response to the latest Energy Bill from the government. Each of the other ones is noteworthy, for different reasons:

The House of Bishops has recognised that it needs a bit of outside assistance in drafting decent women bishops legislation for the July synod. I'm glad it's also resisted the calls of WATCH to delay until after the next set of Synod elections (another 3 years), which seems a bizarre request designed to prolong the discomfort in the short term and steamroller traditionalists in the long term. A new working group will start meeting in January to help get something workable together. IIt's a mixture of men and women, lay and ordained, including the lay theologian Paula Gooder and Philip Giddings, current chair of the house of laity at General Synod...

.... though he may not be for much longer. A 'public meeting' of the House of Laity has been called for January, with one item on the agenda. That item is a motion of no confidence in Dr Giddings as chair of the house of laity, citing his speech at the November debate as the reason. I don't know if this legally has to be a public meeting, but I can't really see why it shouldn't happen behind closed doors. There's a danger of it becoming a public trial, and yet another public airing of divisive views. (update, Peter Ould isn't impressed with the reasoning for the motion)

Finally the 2011 figures for Bishops Office and Working costs have been published. These amounted to £17m, a jump of over £1m on last year, most of which is accounted for by increased legal fees. The reason for this (reading between the lines) is the additional cost of the Clergy Discipline Measure, as legal advice for this isn't already covered by the other legal expenses of a Diocese. Full details are here, where you can see what's happened in your own Diocese. Here in Bath and Wells, costs have jumped 10%, whilst next door in Bristol they've gone down. I'm assuming there's a back story to places like Southwark, where costs have risen 40% in a year.

More concerning is the fact that, in 2006, this figure was £11.3m. That's a 50% rise in 5 years. How is budgetary control exercised here? As a local priest, every day I meet the people who pay the bills, and am part of a church that has to balance the books month by month, year by year. That's a big incentive to make sure I use resources wisely. No such financial discipline exists for bishops, the money does not run out, there is not the same context to provide that accountability and discipline. And whilst clergy numbers have dropped significantly in 5 years, we still have 113, the same number, in the purple.

There is mention in the full details of a new 'block grant' system of allocating funds for bishops expenses. Will that mean that, in future, if all the money is spent then there's no more? This will increase by 4% year on year, which is significantly ahead of inflation, and this seems overly generous given the huge increases of recent years.

I'm sure there are local factors wherever these expenses have risen, but the aggregate of 44 local factors over 5 years points to a lack of budgetary control and accountability. Perhaps bishops should be funded out of their dioceses, with budgets accountable to diocesan synods as they are for the rest of diocesan functions? The changes may be an attempt to address the spiralling costs, but the document doesn't mention them, instead the reasoning is 'greater flexibility' for bishops. There already seems to be too much flexibility in the bottom line.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps bishops should be funded out of their dioceses, with budgets accountable to diocesan synods as they are for the rest of diocesan functions?

    That's the way we do it in Canada. In practice it tends to be the Executive Council that oversees the budget as here in Edmonton diocese we don't have an annual Synod (tho' some of the bigger and richer dioceses do).