Archbishops have made a U-turned on their controversial race policy, claiming that justice officers would be too expensive to roll out across the country.

In April the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce, set up following the murder of George Floyd, published its long-awaited report aiming to bring racial equality within the Church of England.

The report, From Lament to Action, set out almost 50 actions including the establishment of new, salaried "racial justice officers" in all 42 dioceses, and introducing a "racial justice Sunday” once a year. The report also warned that a failure to act could be a "last straw" for many people of UK Minority Ethnic (UKME) backgrounds, with "devastating effects" on the future of the Church.

However, it appears that Archbishops have waned in their commitment to the plans after a member of General Synod, the Church’s legislative body, submitted written questions asking for an update on the appointment of racial justice officers.

In response, the Archbishop of York, the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, replied saying: "The Archbishops’ Council has concluded that it cannot support this recommendation in this formulation at this time, given the need to reduce costs in diocesan and national administration.

"The Council understands the rationale for this recommendation and will do more work on how best to support racial justice across the country through a network of officers who would be suited to different contexts.

"The Council will look at whether and how this might be supported in a different way as part of looking at funding priorities for the next triennium."

Church officials said that they were working on an estimated total cost of the racial justice officers being around £2.5million, which allows for a total package of just under £60,000 per post when full costs such as pensions, and National Insurance are included. In broad terms this would equate to be about the same cost as 42 stipendiary clergy.

Only one in 25 Church of England clergy are from BAME backgrounds 

The number of clergy who identify as part of a UK minority ethnic background has historically been low. In the Church of England, only one in 25 serving clergy come from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Of the 42 diocesan bishops across the country, the only one from a BAME background is Guli Francis-Dehqani, the Bishop of Chelmsford.

In an address to General Synod in February 2020, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, said that the Church remained "deeply institutionally racist".

The latest development regarding the establishment of racial justice officers comes after Ms Debra Walker, a member of Synod based in Liverpool, had asked the Archbishops’ Council what progress had been made to release funding for the appointment of the racial justice officers around the dioceses as directed in the report.

The Archbishop of York’s comments regarding Church budgets and "the need to reduce costs" come after he drew criticism last year following the announcement of his vision for "a revitalised parish system within which new and inherited worshipping communities flourish together".

This prompted fears that the parish system was being dismantled as it battles against financial ruin amid multi-million debt and struggles to pay clergy.

Bishops attract criticism for ‘opulent’ lifestyles 

On Thursday The Telegraph reported that bishops had attracted criticism for their "opulent" and "lavish" lifestyles after it emerged that they received more than £100,000 a year on top of their £46,000 salary – against the backdrop of a struggling parish system and amid fears of its impending collapse.

Houses with more than six bedrooms, gardeners, chauffeurs, and entertaining and hospitality are among the "opulent" spending by the Church of England’s 42 diocesan bishops.

The Archbishop of York said: "We do not dispute that change is needed across the church if we are to eradicate racism and become a fully welcoming church which practices justice.

"The aspiration for a full-time racial justice officer in every diocese is something the national Church would have liked to support. But we think more work is needed to think through how to drive change at all levels of church life and what role dedicated diocesan officers might have.

"Given the need to reduce costs in diocesan and national administration, the Archbishops’ Council has, therefore, concluded that at the moment full time officers in every diocese cannot be afforded. But this does not mean money won’t be available, nor that there won’t be officers in place in other ways as we work out what we can afford and what we believe will be most effective.

"The Council will, therefore, be looking at how this might be supported in a different ways as part of its funding priorities for the next triennium."

‘A slap in the face’

Elizabeth Henry, who resigned as the Church of England’s race adviser last year, said the decision was "a slap in the face". She added: "To say it’s too costly is a gross insult. It’s to say racial justice is too expensive when it is a foundation of our faith. This decision is a disgrace."

Revd Arun Arora, a vicar in the Diocese of Durham and Taskforce co-chair, also said it was "a shock and disappointment". 

He said: "In welcoming the publication of From Lament to Action the Archbishops of Canterbury and York stated that they would work with Archbishops Council to create a Racial Justice Directorate within the National Church Institutions of the Church of England, for a five-year period, to implement the recommendations of the Taskforce and the Commission.

"It was therefore something of a shock and disappointment to learn less than three months later that there are no plans to implement one of our key proposals.

"This decision by the Archbishops’ Council has worrying echoes of the decision taken by General Synod in 1986 not to act upon recommendations made by the Faith in the City report on areas of Racial Justice, which included references to financial cost. 

"My concern is that thirty-five years later the context may be different but the same excuses for failing to act are being given. Ultimately this boils down to a matter of priorities which is inevitably reflected in decisions over resources."