Cathedrals in line for sweeping changes: Improvement in financial planning is a matter of 'critical urgency', says commission. Andrew Brown reports

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The Independent Online
DEANS and other clergy who run English cathedrals under largely medieval constitutions should lose the security of their jobs for life, according to a report commissioned by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in the wake of a scandal at Lincoln Cathedral.

Improvement in financial planning is a matter of 'critical urgency', according to Heritage and Renewal, the report produced by a commission chaired by Lady Howe, who formerly chaired the Equal Opportunities Commission.

The Chapter of Lincoln Cathedral has been in a state of unresolved civil war for the past six years, after a row between the dean and treasurer over a fund-raising trip that went wrong. Neither man can force the other's resignation.

Lady Howe's report makes 81 recommendations, ranging from a complete overhaul of the way cathedrals are run to issuing vergers with walkie-talkies and counting visitors electronically to help financial planning. All attempt to introduce greater professionalism, lay influence and modern management practices. They are also intended to integrate cathedrals with the rest of the Church of England, which is also being reorganised.

At present, the medieval cathedrals of England are run as autonomous bodies by a group of priests appointed for life. The independence of cathedrals from their bishops is symbolised by the way in which a bishop must knock at the door of his cathedral when consecrated to gain permission to enter it. The commission recommends that this 'Dean and Chapter system' be abolished, though the title of dean will remain.

Fourteen later cathedrals, such as Southwark, Sheffield and Bradford, were originally parish churches, and so are run by provosts assisted by councils.

The commission urges that all the 42 English cathedrals, medieval and modern, should be under the control of new committees, known as 'Greater Councils', chaired by the diocesan bishop. These committees will also include representatives of English Heritage. They will be responsible for monitoring the performance of the deans and chapter clergy and for deciding whether to renew their appointments.

The deans and provosts and their chapters will continue to be in charge of running of the cathedral, though a lay administrator will join them on the 'Administrative Chapter' where authority will be vested. In general, the report urges greater power and better conditions of employment for the laity. Lay staff outnumber the clergy staff of cathedrals by about 10 to one. Volunteers outnumber both. There are about ten times as many volunteers as paid lay staff.

Partly due to this network of helpers, the cathedrals are not facing a financial crisis. But they are in a financial mess. 'If the benefit of legacies and appeals is excluded, then the overall deficit is nearly pounds 3m, with only about a quarter of cathedrals in surplus and the rest in deficit.'

The report exposes disparities of income and wealth between the cathedrals of England. The four richest (St Paul's, Canterbury, Salisbury, and York) own 42 per cent of their total assets, averaging more than pounds 18m each; the nine poorest 4 per cent, averaging less than pounds 950,000. These figures take no account of the value of the cathedral buildings, 'whose value cannot be practically measured.'

St Paul's made just over pounds 2m from 1.4m tourists in 1992. Bradford lost pounds 20,000 catering for 5,000 visitors. The shops in Canterbury Cathedral made a profit of pounds 124,000 on a turnover of pounds 733,000 that year. Birmingham, another member of the poor modern group, made nothing on a turnover of pounds 8,000.

Asked about their financial future, nine cathedrals made no response at all, and five more only replied that they hoped income would keep up with expenditure. This, says the commission, 'indicates a dangerously low level of forward thinking and planning in too many cathedrals.'

The report urges the richer cathedrals, to raise more from their visitors, so that either they or the Church Commissioners will be able to help the poorer ones more.

The changes to cathedral constitutions that the report proposes will require legislation, first in Synod, and later in Parliament. Other recommendations can be put into place immediately.

Leading article, page 17