Bloated bureaucracy in Oxford diocese draws ire of churchgoers

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The Diocese of Oxford, one of the wealthiest in the Church of England, has come under fire for its alleged ‘bloated bureaucracy’ in a letter from a frontline parish treasurer in London’s Daily Telegraph.

The newspaper published the letter by Stephen Billyeald, treasurer of the parish of Pangbourne with Tidmarsh and Sulham in Berkshire, part of Oxford diocese, on Saturday January 14. He was responding to a letter the previous day about ‘parish share’, the voluntary contribution Parochial Church Councils (PCCs) make to their diocesan boards of finance for the cost of their clergy and towards central costs.

Mr Billyeald wrote: ‘The all-up cost of an incumbent – including stipend, national insurance, pension, housing and training – is some £50,000. The Oxford diocese generates £20,000 per incumbent from its Diocesan Stipends Fund set up in 1976 from glebe funds originating in the parishes. The diocese demands a further £70,000 from the parish, making a total of £90,000. 

‘Thus £40,000 goes to funding a bloated bureaucracy and projects of dubious value, for which the diocese refuses to publish detailed figures.’

In response to a press enquiry about Mr Billyyeald’s letter, Oxford diocese’s director of communications and spokesperson for the Bishop of Oxford, Steven Buckley, drew attention to a detailed financial analysis the diocese published in October 2022, On the money – How we’re funded, and how that money helps our churches and schools to thrive.

Diocesan Secretary, Canon Mark Humphriss, and the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Steven Croft, wrote in their joint introduction to On the money: ‘In the face of social change and challenging economic times, the continued generosity and commitment of our congregations is essential. We’re committed to making sure those resources are used efficiently, effectively and responsibly. Read on to find out more, and please do write in with any suggestions for how we can improve the information presented here.’

The document stated that in 2021 the Oxford Diocesan Board of Finance (ODBF) spent £253,000 on its communications team of 3.57 full-time employees: ‘Our Communications team supports all that we say and do. Their work ranges from handling media enquiries to producing Pathways magazine, our website, data analysis and finding new ways of sharing the good news, such as the Space Makers contemplative toolkit. The team is on hand with help and advice for parishes every day of the week. Note: the costs of communications support for the Bishop of Oxford are met by the Church Commissioners.’

This note would seem to indicate that the cost of Steven Buckley’s role as the Bishop’s spokesman is covered by a grant from the Church Commissioners in Westminster. According to their website, ‘the Commissioners manage a £10.1bn investment fund. The money they make from those investments contribute to the cost of mission projects, dioceses in low-income areas, bishops, cathedrals, and pensions.’

The Oxford diocese website lists five staff in the communications department headed by Mr Buckley.

The ODBF’s directors’ report and financial statements for the year to December 2021, registered at the Charity Commission for England and Wales, state that the aggregate remuneration, including pensions and employer’s National Insurance contributions, for six diocesan directors, including Mr Buckley, amounted to £558,000, up from £529,000 in 2020.

The ODBF financial statements also reveal that it spent £546,000 on ‘Bishops, Archdeacons & Area Offices’ in 2021, up from £487,000 in 2020.

Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in the UK.