Tuesday, 22 June 2010

View from the Pew

I have just sent my annual renewal payment to Forward in Faith. That being so I reckon I have earned the right to offer an ill-informed opinion to the discussions on the latest proposals announced by the Archbishops of Canterbury and Rome on women bishops - and in particular the arrangements for parishes who would rather they kept with the traditional arrangements of men only priests and bishops. Its a perspective offered by a fairly worldly accountant (if there can be such a thing) who has helped organisations get their financial affairs in order.
Larger failing organisations - and I refer to those in the public or not for profit sectors - often get mired financially because it is not clear who is responsible for what. Its not practical for the Chief Executive to take every financial decision, so to make matters manageable the CEO will delegate to others in the organisation, responsibility and authority for financial decision making. Usually those responsibilities are consistent with the wider management responsibilities that individuals carry. Typically therefore I will get a budget to cover the costs of the staff I manage and maybe the costs of training, travel and equipment that allows them to do a good job.
Where this process gets more complicated is in larger hierarchies where the process of delegation carries on down through the chain of command; so that middle managers will get a slice of budget to manage on behalf of, say, their Director. The logic is the same: the manager is closer to the decisions that need to be taken and so they should be responsible for the financial consequences of their decisions.
However a scheme of delegation is not without its problems. Lets say that as Middle Manager A I am rather good at managing my resources. Near the end of the year I have a bit of spare cash and I would like to use it to buy some nice new IT kit for my team. However my boss has a problem in that Middle Manager B has got themselves into a financial hole. So my boss would like to raid other parts of their empire to make their books balance. If as Middle Manager A I am truly empowered, then I can in theory say, sorry boss, but the new IT kit is on its way in. If, on the other hand, my boss's view prevails then I hand back the nest egg I have built up, consoling myself that perhaps its for the greater good. That said, there is no guarantee that my boss having perhaps juggled the money successfully, got herself out of a hole and is now keen to thank everyone for a job well done with a 'Fun' team event does not then find themselves having to instead hand the money back to the CEO who has an even better idea.......
Often I have been through a process of saying to managers throughout the organisation: 'who is in charge of the budget when...........'. Because the answer to the question tells you where real accountability and responsibility lie. Some organisations genuinely try to push responsibility right own the line and absolve senior Directors teams of any formal delegation. That's fine when things are going well but not advisable if the going gets tough. Others tend to place effective control nearer the top of the organisation which can be a bit stifling for every day decision making but does at least mean that the Board are better placed to take take urgent resourcing decisions . What is clear though is that the answer to the question: who is really in charge when ......... can only have one person as the answer. Regardless of what the answer is, the real decision can only really sit in one place. Answers of 'one the one hand it could be, but on the other hand its also...' or worse still 'we don't know/we've never thought about it, people tend to make it up as they go along...' just do not work. This sort of ambiguity or decision-making vacuum is the recipe for the type of financial problems that caused you to ask the questions in the first place.
This slightly rambling piece was prompted by reading the Archbishops proposals because it seems to me the one question I would ask is this: 'Who is in charge when.......'. If its crucial to the parish and its a. The Bishop brought in to oversee the Parish - then its a Flying bishop; if its b. Its down to the Diocesan Bishop - then its no different to the current code of practice; and if its c. 'Well... both' then by my analogy with delegated management, the whole proposal would be doomed to failure.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Sunday, Sunday

Two Sundays this week. To begin with I made it to church twice: once for early Mass and once for the celebration of Corpus Christi. The latter was followed by the Forward in Faith AGM for the Rochester diocese. All in all an occasion to lift the spirits which you can read about here.

The other bit of Sunday was a bit of serious digging on my allotment - which sits behind St John's, Sevenoaks and was my first port of call after the 8:00 Mass. My wife is largely the inspiration for the increasingly pleasing results in the picture. But assuredly my back will testify that it too has played its part in ensuring that we don't get a letter soon telling us to get our plot up to scratch.

Saturday, 5 June 2010


A very much delayed postscript to the earlier sequence of thoughts on the election. That 'New' Labour probably spent a lot more of our money than was wise seems widely agreed. But was it all bad? That thought struck me recently as I was reacquainted with the journey up the A1 to Yorkshire. I have always taken the A1 in preference to the M1, not least because if there is a hold up there are plenty of easy ways round any delay. Not so on the motorways where there is no relief before the next official exit. Against that the A1 was always a tad slower, not least because a succession of roundabouts between Peterborough and the A1(M) in South Yorkshire added to journey times. Those have now gone - replaced by slip roads and flyovers at each major junction. The result was a much better journey, doubtless achieved at a cost but equally very tangible evidence that taxpayer's money was being invested for our collective benefit. I have also heard (and to some extent seen) the benefits of the Labour government's investment in schools and hospitals. They are now in far better shape than they were when Labour came to office in 1997.
All this was thrown into even sharper relief last week when I accompanied a number of others on a bus journey through the new Olympic Park.To be honest I was stunned at the progress - 2 years out from the Games, remember - that was being made. Many of the stadia are now nearing completion and some of the early landscaping of Olympic Park is underway. This surely is cause for some early national pride on a very professional approach to such a huge challenge.

The Olympic programme is not simply about hosted the Games. Its also about the regeneration of some of the most disadvantaged parts of London. Parts of the Olympic Park will after the games be transformed into areas of new housing. Meanwhile just down the road at Stratford, the new Westfield Shopping Complex will be one of the largest undercover retail centres in Europe. I hope that having embarked on such an ambitious project the new coalition does not lose its nerve and see this through to a fitting conclusion: a transformed East End of London.