The continuing manipulation of General Synod by the Archbishops’ Council

Later today (Saturday, 24 February), members of the General Synod will debate the report by barrister Sarah Wilkinson, into the collapse of the “‘Independent’ Safeguarding Board” (ISB) and Professor Alexis Jay into the Future of Church Safeguarding and new independent structures to deliver and scrutinise it.

A number of amendments have been proposed. And, as is normal practice, a financial notice paper has been produced which sets out the cost implications of the amendments. Here, the manipulation isn’t even hidden.

The notice paper begins by talking about implementing professor Jay’s recommendations, and says: “It is clear such action would have cost implications (including the redistribution of costs from diocesan funding to national Church funding).”

This notice paper (NP9) isn’t about implementing the Jay recommendations. That is in an earlier Notice Paper (NP5). This paper is about the amendments, but it is noticeable that before addressing these the Archbishops’ Council begin by warning that costs will be faced by dioceses (something that they do not do in NP5.

In relation to an amendment tabled by Clive Billenness (which mirrors an amendment I suggested in a post earlier this week), NP5 says that the cost is estimated “to be in the region of between £50,000 and £100,000” and that the cost of external consultants is unknown, but “can run to several hundred thousands of pounds.”

So far so good. But the paper goes on to say this: “If this motion is passed, any resulting costs would be an unbudgeted cost for the Archbishops’ Council to bear from its reserves, reducing, stopping or delaying other work or seeking additional funding.”

In other words, passing such an amended motion would prevent the Archbishops’ Council from doing good work.

But, no. Actually. Because Clive Billenness’ amendment isn’t suggesting something new, he is suggesting something different. His amendment would prevent the creation of two new response groups – as it would take these out of the original motion. NP5 estimates the cost of such response groups to be “in the region of £300,000”.

So the original motion, if passed unamended, is already going to cost £300,000 – money which, as NP5 says, is unbudgeted. And the original motion is merely an interim step: if Professor Jay’s recommendations are to be adopted, the costs in Clive Billenness’ amendment will have to be paid anyway: Measures will need to be drafted and external consultants will need to develop the structures. That is what Professor Jay has recommended.

Clive Billenness’ motion will therefore save money – as it will negate the need for the £300,000 on the response groups.

If you think this is a lot of money, remember that the Archbishops’ Council have already spent £250,000 on the Wilkinson Review and £730,000 on Professor Jay’s Report (see the answer to Synod Question 156). This, together with the £300,000 estimated costs of their proposed response groups means that the Archbishops’ Council’s disastrous decision to disband the ISB in the way that they did, has already cost almost £1.3 million.

So it is a bit rich – I’ve picked the appropriate idiom – for the Archbishops’ Council to warn Synod members that proceeding with a motion that will save an unnecessary spend of £300,000 will result in the reduction, stopping or delaying of other work.

I conclude with the words of the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, speaking on BBC Radio Four’s Sunday Programme on 4 October, 2020 about the cost of independent safeguarding: “It will cost us a lot of money, I expect, but if we don’t do it, it will cost us our soul. And that is a much higher cost.”

On a final point, not related to finance: when the Archbishops’ Council announced that they had commissioned Professor Jay to produce this report, they said that she had “agreed to develop proposals for a fully independent structure to provide scrutiny of safeguarding in the Church of England.” In that statement, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York said: “This work will be entirely in their hands and fully external and independent.”

And they added that Professor Jay would be involved in the next stage “so that the establishment of the body is accomplished with the same degree of independence.”

Clive Billenness’ amendment seeks to do what the Archbishops’ Council said it was going to do and would prevent the Archbishops’ Council simply kicking the recommendations into the long grass.

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