General Synod: Further safeguarding obfuscation by the Archbishops’ Council

On Friday (23 February), members of General Synod will gather at Church House in Westminster for the first of five days of meetings – called a Group of Sessions. Safeguarding (including the reports by Professor Alexis Jay into the Future of Church Safeguarding and barrister Sarah Wilkinson on the debacle of the so-called “ ‘Independent’ Safeguarding “Board” (ISB), will be debated on Saturday.

I have posted about Professor Jay’s report here.

Alongside those reports, General Synod members have been presented with other papers and reports on safeguarding by the Archbishops’ Council and its National Safeguarding Team. They make for sorry reading and serve to demonstrate why the Jay and Wilkinson reports were needed: an absence of trust, accountability, and scrutiny.

I’ll draw out some aspects of the safeguarding reports shortly, but first a reminder that the National Safeguarding Team’s budget for this year (which includes the costs of the many other national safeguarding groups) is £7.3 million (see paragraph 11 on page 13 of GS2309 – the Archbishops’ Council 2024 budget). That is an increase of £1.386 million on last year’s figure of £5.914 million. To put that increase in perspective: it is larger than the total increase (£1.1 million) in the overall budgeted national operating expenditure for the year.

As I have been saying for some time: the national spend on safeguarding is out of control. The Archbishops’ Council’s response to the safeguarding crisis, that it and its staff created, has been to simply throw more money at it and hope for the best, rather than actually delivering real change for victims and survivors.

And don’t forget: that figure is for national expenditure on centralised bodies. The National Safeguarding Team and its associated groups are not responsible for delivering safeguarding on the ground – that remains (at present) the responsibility of the 42 individual dioceses, and so the figures quoted above do not include the cost of delivering safeguarding, responding to allegations, or supporting victims in the 42 dioceses of the Church of England.

Despite these huge sums of money, the Archbishops’ Council and its secretariat, led by William Nye, continue to block scrutiny of its activities and they continue to mislead the General Synod and others.

Amongst the large bunch of reports and papers that have been sent to Synod members to help them prepare for the upcoming meeting of Synod, are papers on safeguarding matters. These papers clearly demonstrate the obfuscation and, yes, I will say it, lies, that the Archbishops’ Council and its staff deploy to mislead Synod members and the public (and, by default, the Charity Commission, who are the regulators of the Archbishops’ Council) on the effectiveness and activities of the national safeguarding structures. Others demonstrate the continuing safeguarding fiasco at a national level.

GS 2236

GS 2236, entitled simply “Safeguarding” is a report by the lead bishop for safeguarding, the Bishop of Stepney, the Right Revd Joanne Grenfell; and the Chair of the House of Laity and Archbishops’ Council member, Dr Jamie Harrison. In part, this paper (which has been prepared with such care that it is headed “Draft”) sets out the Archbishops’ Council’s response to Professor Jay’s report, yet it was produced and distributed to Synod members before Professor Jay had published her report.

Speaking of the closure of the “’Independent’ Safeguarding Board” – and the effect this had on the victims and survivors that the ISB were working with – the report says this: “We do now have in place, through independent commissioner Kevin Crompton, a means for those seeking reviews under the terms of the ISB to continue with this. We are glad that several people are taking up this offer and working with Kevin to set in place reviews.”

All good, then. Well, actually, no! On Tuesday, the Church Times reported that those survivors whose treatment by the Church was being reviewed by the ISB, had issued a statement. The ISB 11, as they are calling themselves, said that GS 2236 “states that the ISB 11 have a means in place to continue with their reviews — this is untrue. The necessary conditions such as data-sharing agreements are not in place. It is also inaccurate to imply that the group are happily working with Kevin Crompton.

“The ISB 11 have instead expressed no confidence in his brief, role, or readiness to conduct our reviews on the same basis as the former ISB. Not one survivor is currently having their review progressed with / by him. We are deeply concerned that the General Synod has been fed misinformation which we assume is designed to appease Synod members. This has exacerbated the ‘significant harm’ to survivors as evidenced in the recent Glasgow Report.”

The Glasgow Report was compiled by David Glasgow, a clinical and forensic psychologist, who was tasked with investigating and describing the psychological impact on survivors of the Archbishops’ Council’s decision to disband the ISB.

He concluded that “the termination of the contracts of the independent members of the ISB had serious and adverse consequences for all CoE victims interviewed (who were within various stages of the case review system)” and he continued: “in most cases the impact reached a threshold of significant harm. 

“Overall, as would be expected, a range of trauma related symptomology were reported, including intrusive experiences, dissociation, defensive avoidance, dysregulation of affect, self derogation and self harm.  In some cases some of the symptoms were mild, but most I would characterise as moderate to severe.”

The Archbishops’ Council’s Secretary General, William Nye, had been warned about the impact on victims and was urged to delay a public announcement so that a plan could be put in place by the ISB members to prevent such harm. The advice was ignored and most of the survivors working with the ISB learned of its demise through the media.

GS 2236 also sets out the Archbishops’ Council’s response to the Wilkinson Review into the disbanding of the ISB. There is so much that could be said about this, and if time permits I will do so later. But for now, it is sufficient to say that this part of the report is filled with caveats – the most disturbing being a series of obstacles that the council is laying down as to the acceptance, or otherwise, of recommendations from lessons learned reviews.

GS MISC 1374

GS MISC 1374 is an update on the work of the National Safeguarding Team. It is published in the name of Alexander Kubeyinje the National Director of Safeguarding. He begins by listing “some of the areas of strengths and successes”. These include: “better engagement with victims and survivors” and “a focus on hearing the voices of victims and survivors.”

Really? The trust of victims and survivors in the Church of England has never been so low. Many have left the C of E and some have left the Church altogether (which brings to mind Jesus’ warning in Matthew 18:6). On what basis can it be said, at this time, that better engagement with victims and survivors, and a focus on hearing their voices, are strengths and successes of the National Safeguarding Team.

What measure was used to evaluate this KPI? Did Mr Kubeyinje manage to keep a straight face as he typed this?

Church of England safeguarding is in crisis. Does anybody really doubt this? Apart from the Archbishops’ Council who say that they understand but continue to act as though they don’t. The Archbishops’ Council, its senior staff and its National Safeguarding Team continue to create additional crises not just for victims and survivors but for the Church as a whole: why else would Professor Jay need to have been commissioned to produce her report and recommendations?

Is Mr Kubeyinje lying? Or is the Archbishops’ Council and its staff still in denial about the scale of the crisis that they have created?

This claim is in stark contrast to the words of Professor Jay in her report published today. In the first paragraph of her conclusions (page four) she says: “The Church needs to take action urgently to restore trust and confidence in its safeguarding by victims, survivors, those wrongly accused and the general public. There have been attempts over many years by the Church to improve how it responds to safeguarding concerns and allegations. Some of these have led to improvements, but overall Church leaders have failed to allay suspicions and belief that the underlying intention of the Church is to retain control of safeguarding inside the Church, and to protect its reputation. The dissolution of the ISB, and the dismissal of two board members, marked a further deterioration in the Church’s relations with victims and survivors.”

And yet, for Mr Kubeyinje, better engagement with victims and survivors and a focus on hearing their voices is one of the NST’s “strengths and successes”.

Does he, and the Archbishops’ Council who employ him, not realise that words such as this serve only to confirm that the Church is not listening. It just doesn’t get it.

GS MISC 1372

GS MISC 1372 is an anonymous update on the Redress Scheme. This scheme, if implemented, will provide a statutory process through which victims can seek redress from the Church. Despite its long gestation, over many years, and the existence of an interim scheme, whose operation and effectiveness have frequently been called into question, the Archbishops’ Council have never been fully clear about why such a scheme is needed. There is already an opportunity for victims to seek redress: through the courts.

This report says that “the purpose of the Redress Scheme is to demonstrate in tangible and practical ways that the Church is truly sorry for its past failings relating to safeguarding.” The Church Times reported in September 2020 that the Archbishops’ Council had approved an interim pilot scheme which would inform the creation of a full redress scheme.

Today, in February 2024, we are still awaiting that full redress scheme. That delay is indeed a “tangible and practical demonstration” of how truly sorry the Church is for its past failings relating to safeguarding.

In November 2023, the General Synod gave first consideration to the draft Abuse Redress Measure, which is now being considered by a revision committee. This report is an update to Synod members on progress. In it, Mr Kubeyinje discusses the “funding formula” for gathering contributions to pay for the redress.

He says: “in particular, senior staff of the NCIs have had prolonged and detailed discussions with one of the insurers serving many of the Church of England’s local bodies. Having completed their analysis of our current Scheme design, the insurer’s analysis is that payments of financial awards to survivors as part of the Redress Scheme through the Scheme Administrator would conflict with the existing insurance contracts they have with individual parishes and other church bodies, which they will continue to honour, and so they will not participate in the funding formula which the Project Board had approved.

“This is disappointing news for the Project Board and for the survivors who have worked hard over the last year or more to help develop such a funding formula.”

The insurer in question, Ecclesiastical, have played a significant role in creating the mistrust between the Church and the Church’s victims and survivors, working to defend the Church’s reputation rather than compensating those who have been abused.

But it is not surprising that they have declined to participate in a “funding formula” – that is not the role of insurance companies. As a provider of highly regulated financial products, Ecclesiastical has limits on the freedom to make payments outside of formal claims. The Measure could create a new insurable risk, for which Ecclesiastical – or any other insurer – would need to factor into its pricing of policies; but asking it to pay out in advance of such a scheme was always a non-starter.

The fact that it has taken the Archbishops’ Council such a long time to understand this is symptomatic of their general incompetence and mismanagement of resources by the Council and its secretariat.

So what next?

Synod needs to challenge the Archbishops’ Council. The same body that produced this reports now want to take forward Professor Jay’s recommendations and play around with them, returning something different to the Synod at some undetermined point in the future.

The Archbishops’ Council is the body that created the mess. They do not have the capacity or competence to deal with it. Synod can. And Synod must.

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