Managing Diocesan Finances – Guest Post

In the light of a discussion about Winchester Diocesan Synod handing over budget approval responsibility to the Board of Finance, I have been sent the following essay by Christopher Whitmey, a Director of the Hereford Diocese Board of Finance.

Synodical budget consideration: delegation or due consideration?

Money makes the World go round...Peter replied to my comment on his “The Blog Post That Disappeared” with “The [Winchester] Synod voted to delegate budget oversight to Board of Finance for three years. This is now seen as a mistake. No kidding.”. As a director of the Hereford Diocesan Board of Finance I could not resist donning my deerstalker hat and grabbing my magnifying glass!

Unfortunately the Winchester Diocesan website only shows its diocesan synod minutes until the meeting of 01 December 2012. From these it is clear that for a period of three years, until a review, the synod had accepted a recommendation that:

“that future financial debates at Synod are based on setting the mission objectives and approving the key financial figures – what we want to spend and how much parish share will be required together with very high level amplifying information. The Bishop’s Council & Standing Committee should be responsible for ensuring the budget, created by the diocesan staff and shaped by the Bishop’s Staff Team, is within the parameters set by the Synod’s mission objectives.”

No subsequent minutes are available on the website. It is therefore impossible to see whether or not the synod complied with Synodical Government Measure 1969 and considered and approved the 2014 budget in the same way that it approved the 2013 budget on 30 June 2012.

The Winchester website clearly states:

The role of the diocesan synod is set out in the Synodical Government Measure 1969:

…

(d) to consider proposals for the annual budget for the Diocese and to approve or disapprove them;

(e) to consider the annual accounts of the Diocesan Board of Finance of the Diocese.

As a director of the Hereford Diocesan Board of Finance I’m accustomed to the Diocesan Synod commenting on the annual budget details with varying degrees of criticism and then approving it. All budgeted income/expenditure details are available. No mere ‘key financial figures’ and ‘very high level amplifying information’ in Hereford. Though not a lawyer I’m intrigued: was the decision of the Winchester Diocesan Synod to delegate its budget lawful?

The relevant wording of the 1969 measure, as amended (emphases added):

4 Constitution and functions of diocesan synods.

(1) …

(2) The functions of the diocesan synod shall be—

…

(d) to consider proposals for the annual budget for the diocese and to approve or disapprove them;

(e) to consider the annual accounts of the diocesan board of finance of the diocese:

…

(3) It shall be the duty of the bishop to consult with the diocesan synod on matters of general concern and importance to the diocese.

(4) Except as may be provided by standing orders or directions of the diocesan synod, the advisory and consultative functions of the synod under subsections (2)(b) and (3) of this section may be discharged on behalf of the synod by the bishops council and standing committee appointed in accordance with rule 28 of the Church Representation Rules contained in Schedule 3 to this Measure, but either the bishop or the body so appointed may require any matter to be referred to the synod.

(5) The diocesan synod shall keep the deanery synods of the diocese informed of the policies and problems of the diocese and of the business which is to come before meetings of the diocesan synod, …

As a former clerk to a civil council I’m aware that a statutory function or duty can be either discretionary or mandatory. Which it is depends on the context and wording. Section 4 appears to contain examples of both. Subsections (3) and (5) contain a duty or function that involves a discretion on the part of the responsible party. One bishop may adjudge a matter to be of general concern and importance another may reasonably differ. One diocesan synod may similarly differ in what policies and problems merit the attention of deanery synods.

I’m inclined to the view that s.4(2)(d), and (e), are mandatory and imperative without any discretion. The diocesan synod had no power to delegate approval of the annual budget proposals. Slightly redrafting the wording of (d):

‘The diocesan synod shall consider proposals for the annual budget for the diocese and to approve or disapprove them.’

The plain meaning is an imperative that the synod has a statutory duty to either accept or reject the proposals for the annual budget. To my mind there is no scope whatsoever in the wording to submit there is any ambiguity or uncertainty. ‘Consider proposals’, plural, must mean a fair degree of detail: no mere ‘within the parameters set by the Synod’s mission objectives’.

Ah, wait. Can mission objectives be defined with a £ sign? Search the Winchester website for “mission objectives” – just two hits:

‘The provision of property advice to Parochial Church Councils and other Church related organisations to enable their mission objectives;’

‘Mary is responsible for the effective delivery of administrative and clerical services in support of the management of ministerial houses and glebe property to meet the mission objectives of the Diocese within the resources available.’

If a statutory function of a body can be delegated there must be an unequivocal statutory authorisation for such delegation. Interestingly subsection (4) gives such authorisation for subsections (2)(b) and (3). A failure to include subsection (2)(d) must negate any assumption that the budget proposals approval can be delegated.

If it is lawful to delegate consideration of the budget why not the annual accounts? After all technically they are the company accounts of the Board of Finance and not the diocesan synod.

In context subsection (5) is not irrelevant. Surely the budget proposals are ‘policies and problems’ about which deanery synods should be informed? The diocesan synod members are in the main elected by the deanery synods. With an eye to parish share I modify the mid 18th century colonial cry of “No taxation without representation”: “No taxation without due consideration of proposals and approval”.

If I was a member of a PCC in Winchester Diocese I would recall the Pharisees’ question, “Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”. It would seem the answer, “Show me the resolution of diocesan synod approving the budget proposals.” is not available.

I would consider moving the PCC to resolve to refuse to pay any parish share until such time as the Board of Finance either: produced a convincing independent reasoned legal opinion that the diocesan synod delegation of its duty under section 4(2)(d) was lawful; or got the budget proposals approved by the diocesan synod.

Posted in Church of England, Winchester Diocese
  • Richard Huss

    Here in Birmingham diocese the DBF (a company limited by guarantee) is set up such that Bishop’s Council are the board of directors but the entire Diocesan Synod are members of the company. This has the result that the company accounts most definitely are synod’s business, and the AGM takes place within a synod meeting.

    I can’t remember much more of the detail, having retired from Diocesan Synod 5 years ago at the ripe old age of 35. But I think the outline is correct.

    Could be interesting (to one or two people, anyway) to compare and contrast diocesan corporate structures. Or perhaps not.

  • GavinDrake

    A few years ago Lichfield diocese agreed that the members of Synod would be members of the DBF; and that members of the Synod’s standing committee would be members of the Bishop’s Council.

    The four bodies are still legally separate but there are only two sets of members.

    The DBF business occurs within diocesan synod meetings;
    and synod exec business occurs within bishop’s council meetings.

    The agendas and minutes make clear whether it is DBF or BC business being discussed. The bishop & DBF chairman will alternate in the chair appropriately.

    It has reduced costs, streamlined decision taking, and created a joined-up approach between mission/policy and funding/spending. It works very well.