Cash row bishops plead poverty

Redecorate the palace or help the poor? Clare Garner on the clergy's dilemma
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The Independent Online
WHAT price a bishop? The cost to the public purse of funding England's 110 bishops in 1996 was a record pounds 13.7m.

The bill, disclosed last week in the House of Commons, represents a rise of 12 per cent on 1995. The increase is largely due to the unprecedented repair and refurbishment of palaces and the Church of England's bid to join the technological age.

Suggestions that some church figures are leading unnecessarily lavish lifestyles has prompted a Church Commissioner to deny that bishops are "fat cats, over-salaried and over-resourced".

The biggest single expense is Lambeth Palace, where George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, lives and works. In 1996, the palace's running costs are understood to have exceeded pounds 1m for the first time. Dr Carey's wage is pounds 47,000 and an additional four staff have been recruited in the past 10 years.

The announcement comes at an awkward moment for the Church of England, which is trying to trim expenditure, with some bishops travelling second class in trains and hiring out rooms in their palaces for wedding receptions and banquets.

The large number of bishops who have retired recently goes some way towards explanation: the redecoration costs when new occupants move in are substantial and are increased by essential maintenance carried out at the same time.

Another reason is the cost of equipping bishops' offices with computers and increased insurance costs for their homes.

The vast bulk of bishops' expenses - 84 per cent - goes on staff. The remaining 16 per cent comprises office expenses, including equipment, resettlement costs, hospitality and travel. Diocesan bishops also get heating, lighting, cleaning and house and garden items.

But there have been calls for the Church to scale down the bishops' lifestyles. In Parliament last week Norman Baker, MP for Middlesbrough, suggested the money might be better spent helping those in greater need.

"Would it not be better if the Church of England were to stop supporting hierarchies and use the money that would be freed to help the poor and house the homeless?" he asked.

However, a spokesman for the Church Commissioners dismissed this saying the Church was not "a homeless charity". "One thing is care of the needy and speaking up for the poor, but the church also has a role to play in the lives of a broad range of people," he said. "The classic definition is that the clergymen are there for the cure of the souls of everyone in the parish."

He denied that the figure of pounds 13.7m was unnecessarily high. A diocesan bishop, of whom there are 44 in England, receives a stipend of pounds 26,470, while the 66 suffragan bishops, who play a supportive role, recieve pounds 21,760.

You compare that with senior salaries in other walks of life," he said. "It's frankly almost offensive to say bishops are fat cats, over-salaried and over-resourced."

The Church Commissioners spokesman added that bishops were entitled to chauffeurs because they had a "responsible role in the country".

Stuart Bell, Second Church Estates Commissioners, explained that bishops would not be able to fulfil their "very wide range of responsibilities" unless they had "adequate office back-up".

The Rev John Andrews, press officer for the Rt Rev James Thompson, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, said he could justify every penny. "Our palace is home for four people. The bishop lives in what used to be the servants' quarters, the gardener lives there, the manager lives there and the chaplain lives there."

The reception rooms are hired out for small conferences, meetings or wedding receptions. "We're self-sufficient and we meet our costs," he said. "The Bishop lives in a big draughty house and his part of it is no bigger than a good sized rectory."

The Rt Rev Roger Sainsbury, Bishop of Barking, lives as modestly as possible. "When I was made a bishop I decided I wanted to live in Newham, the most socially deprived area of London," he said. "The house I live in was built for pounds 180,000. The previous bishop lived in Essex in a house worth pounds 250,000." He has one member of staff, a secretary who works 35 hours a week.

David Hope, Archbishop of York, makes savings wherever he can, according to one of his five secretaries. "He always travels second class. He needs a chauffeur sometimes to read, but he drives himself a lot," she said.

Since Dr Hope's arrival two years ago, his home, Bishopsthorpe Palace, just outside York, has been opened to the public as a way of recouping costs. It is also hired out for between pounds 100 and pounds 200 a night for banquets.

"It's a public house in some ways, even though it's the archbishop's house," said his secretary. Dr Hope has 15 staff: a gardener, a chauffeur, a cook, two curators who do the tours, five secretaries and five other administative staff. "It's not as big as Lambeth, which has 50 people," said the secretary.

But Mr Baker is unconvinced. "It's not very Christian for people to be clearly comfortable in their castles when there is so much poverty around," he said.