Friday, 16 January 2004

Church Commissioners change tack

By far the most interesting Church of England news story this week is the leak to the Church Times of the report due to be published on Monday, Future Use of the Church Commissioners’ Funds. The story is here, Dioceses should pay for own bishops, say Commissioners.
There is also a report in The Times, Collection plate needs £5m to pay for bishops but this contains no additional information about the report itself.

What makes this interesting is that the Church Commissioners now appear to be quite happy to contemplate new legislation, radically altering their statutory obligations, e.g. to pay the stipends of bishops and deans. This conflicts with another report from them released earlier in the week, in they state that they were not prepared to contemplate anything of the kind with respect to the provision of housing for bishops, a much more labour-intensive task.

The genesis of this review lies in the Mellows Report, “Resourcing Bishops”, commissioned by the Archbishops. This recommended that the Commissioners should reappraise the guidelines for see houses, and commented on certain specific issues such as the image presented by the see house, the size of the garden and grounds, the location of the bishop’s office, and the special considerations which should apply to “heritage” see houses. While recognising that the Commissioners were not empowered to do so, the report recommended that the law be changed to enable the Commissioners to transfer the ownership of the see houses to each diocese without payment. This was subject to each diocese being allowed to change the house, if it so decided, before ownership was transferred. The prospect of legislating for something so fundamental to the Commissioners’ purpose - the holding of assets on behalf of the Church - caused them grave concern. This concern was acknowledged by the Archbishops’ Consultations Group which endorsed the alternative proposed by the Commissioners, that they should undertake a strategic review of see houses.

They failed to note in the report that if the highly sensible recommendations of the “Mellows One” report are followed, then virtually the entire administrative cost of the Bishoprics Committee - around £300,000 a year - will be saved. The alternative approach adopted seems certain to preserve those Bishoprics Department jobs that would have become redundant under Mellows.

But now the Commissioners are actually proposing major legislative changes, there is no logic in excluding the arrangements for see houses from their scope, and thus scuppering a major part of the Mellows reforms.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 16 January 2004 at 10:41 PM GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: General Synod | News