Southwell and Nottingham General Synod member calls for safeguarding changes

A member of the Church of England’s General Synod who campaigns against gender-based violence is calling for changes to the way the Church of England tackles safeguarding. Gavin Drake has tabled two Private Members Motions (PMMs) which may be selected for debate by the Synod if they attract the signatures of 100 other General Synod members.

In the January 2022 edition of his monthly General Synod Update newsletter, Gavin Drake says that expenditure by the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team (NST) has risen from under £1.1 m in 2016 to more than £2.3 m in 2020. During the same period, the number of full time equivalent staff in the NST has risen from 6.2 to 17.2. The information, he said, was provided to Synod members in response to a question from the Revd Canon Dr Tim Bull from the diocese of St Albans.

At the last meeting of the General Synod, in Novembner, Gavin Drake, who in addition to being one of four lay members of the General Synod from Southwell and Nottingham is also the Director of The Jill Saward Organisation, thanked the Chair of the Archbishops’ Council’s finance committee, Canon John Spence, for the increase in spending on safeguarding, but asked what “safeguards” were in place to ensure that the money was being spent “wisely and effectively”.

“The National Safeguarding Team’s slogan is ‘promoting a safe church’”, he said. “I think our national effort should not be ‘promoting a safe church’ but ‘mandating a safe church’”.

In response, Canon Spence said: “with regards to safeguarding, I think we have been responding to events over the past five years and we have increased the budget radically. There needs to come a point where we stand back and have an independent look at its effectiveness and I would suggest that that moment may be coming.”

The first of Gavin Drake’s PMMs calls for a Measure – statute law – to give a new or existing national body “the authority to investigate, intervene, and if necessary to direct a particular course of action in cases where bishops or dioceses are not managing safeguarding cases appropriately, effectively, safely, or in line with the House of Bishops’ safeguarding guidance.” At the last count, on 8 December, it had 30 signatures.

The second PMM concerns the second national review of past cases (PCR2) which is currently being undertaken by dioceses throughout the Church of England. It calls for the publication of anonymised data showing how many cases flagged by the independent reviewers as showing cause for concern had previously been looked at by the Church of England and given the all-clear. On 8 December it had attracted 18 signatures.

“The primary responsibility for ensuring that the C of E’s safeguarding is effective lies with the Church,” Gavin Drake said. “PCR2 gives us the opportunity to review whether our safeguarding checks and balances are effective.”

The General Synod will next meet in Westminster from Tuesday 8 to Thursday 10 February 2022. An indicative timetable given to Synod members says that safeguarding will be discussed on the morning of Wednesday 9 February.

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