Archbishop faces MPs over church's pounds 800m losses

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The Independent Online
THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury has been summoned to give evidence to a Commons select commitee for the first time over the pounds 800m losses by the Church Commissioners in property deals.

Dr George Carey, chairman of the commissioners, is to be questioned about the impact of the losses on parishes, the 11,300 clergy and a similar number of pensioners.

Dr Carey set up an inquiry immediately the extent of the losses became known, leading to a clear-out of all the commissioners responsible for the disastrous investments, which had brought the Church of England's finances close to crisis.

The committee is attaching no blame to Dr Carey for the mismanagement of the property assets, but he is bound to face some tough questioning on 26 April by the cross-party Commons Select Committee on Social Security, chaired by Frank Field, the Labour MP.

Sir Michael Colman, who was brought in as First Church Estates Commissioner to mount a recovery operation, has already told the select committee that some of the practices of his predecessors would have been illegal under ordinary company law.

He has warned that the church can no longer afford to fund future pensions if it is to pursue its missionary obligations, supporting poorer dioceses in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and other inner city areas.

The new management team is proposing that wealthier dioceses take on board responsibility for stipends and make provisions for the future pensions of their own parish ministers. Parishes have already been asked to increase their contributions by 15 per cent.

The link between clergy pensions and increases in pay may also be broken to save money, but Sir Michael ruled out requiring clergy to pay for their own pensions, because they have insufficient means.

Mr Field is critical of the commissioners for taking short-term profits from gilt-edged securities to boost the revenue of the church at the risk of eroding their capital.

The commissioners borrowed up to pounds 520m, largely in unsecured loans from the National Westminster Bank, to fund speculative property developments.