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Sunday, March 26, 2017
Opinion piece: Look for future of Church in the Gospels - not the CBI
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¬†The following piece is based on a talk Paul gave to the National Council for Lay Associations last week. There seems to be a growing tendency in the Catholic Church to take on corporate management styles. The need for a business plan, a mission statement and strategic planning, are all terms that seem to crop up more and more in Church circles. An increasing value seems to be being placed upon the professional classes as in some way superior to everyone else. A message that comes through increasingly loud and clear is that it will be the professional people who lead the Church into the promised land. This growing obsession with the corporate management style has its roots in the advance of the neo liberal agenda. This agenda began in the late 1970s before being taken on with a vengeance by the governments of Margaret Thatcher. The main features are that the market is sacred and so self regulating. Anything involving the private sector is good, the public sector bad. The methodology of neo liberalism, saw cuts in taxes for the rich and business, deregulation of markets and a reduction in the public sector. People were atomised as individuals, not communities. This approach was supposed to release the entrepreneurial spirit resulting in wealth creation that would then trickle down to the poorest. The trickle down theory, however, never materialised, with the gap between rich and poor simply growing ever wider. The truth of the Thatcherite neo-liberal revolution, was that it shifted the economic costs of production increasingly onto labour. The problem over the years since Mrs Thatcher left power, has been that the neo-liberal philosophy has embedded itself as the only doctrine in town. As the lady said when in office, there is no alternative. Some believed things would change when the Labour Party came to power but new labour economics is simply a refined form of neo-liberalism. There have been some concessions to the workers in the form of the minimum wage and trade union recognition legislation but in other areas such as social welfare the Labour Government has been able to move far more rapidly and brutally against the weaker and more vulnerable than its Conservative predecessors. It has been able to do this mainly due to its roots in the labour movement, much of which has become so besotted at regaining power after 18 years that it has forgotten its reason for being. So some trade union leaders and NGOs have become complacent and thereby complicit in perpetuating the suffering of the many at the hands of the few. The dominance of the neo-liberal model has been such, that its style of managerialism goes increasingly unquestioned. The advance of this approach into civil and Church circles was well summarised by one church employee. "Many civil society organisations, including Church, seek to legitimise themselves in the terms put forward by the neo-liberals, to adapt the management techniques and language of the private sector, preoccupied as they are with 'good governance', 'mission statements', 'business plans', 'structural reviews, 'strategic planning' etc. It seems they want to get away from the charge of amateurism, to become more professional. But what this professionalism is that they are striving for is not clear - is it to become entrepreneurs with a social conscience or social actors with an entrepreneurial spirit?" The Labour Government has particularly advanced the cause of neo-liberalism with its distortion of language. The code for the language is pretty simple to crack, amounting to the true meaning being the opposite of what is being said. So new Labour politicians talk of radical change when they mean reactionery change. Modernisation means to turn back time and do things in the form of an old style capitalism that has already been proven to fail. For liberalisation read privatisation or the giving away of publicly owned assets to the business sector. A crucial part of the Labour Government's means of advancing its own form of the neo-liberal agenda has been by co-opting the voluntary sector. There is a strong bond between non-governmental organisations and the Labour Party given that for many there is a natural career path leading from one to the other. So in the present government, Home Office minister Paul Goggins served previously as director of Church Action on Poverty. Similarly, Chris Pond, a junior work and pensions minister, was previously head of the Low Pay Unit. There are movements in the other direction as well. Maeve Sherlock, head of the Refugee Council, previously worked for Chancellor Gordon Brown while Shami Chakrabati, director of Liberty, previously worked for Charles Clarke at the Home Office. Church-based NGOs like CAFOD and CIIR have got caught up in this co-option process. They continually claim to be representing the grass roots while pushing the boundaries with government. This though is a very difficult tight rope act to perfect, especially when taking large amounts of government money makes up part of your modus operandi. There have been worrying signs coming out of CAFOD over recent times regarding closeness to government and the increasing incursion of corporate management structures into the organisation. At the time that President George Bush's deputy secretary of defence Paul Wolfowitz was appointed as president of the World Bank, CAFOD were asked for a comment for publication. The press office refused to comment claiming the organisation was "going through other channels." Two years ago CAFOD helped organised the annual National Justice and Peace Conference. The keynote speaker was Mark Moody Stewart, chairman of Anglo American and previous boss of Shell. There was nothing the matter with asking Mr Stewart along to speak, but he was not exactly put under pressure, in a dialogue set up with CAFOD's Duncan Green, who sounded more pro-business that the man from Anglo American. The sad culmination of this growing proximity with corporations and government came earlier this year when Bob Geldof effectively took over the Make Poverty History campaign masterminded by the NGOs. The objectives of the campaign were lost at a crucial time of maximum media exposure when Geldof awarded the government high marks for its efforts on trade, aid and debt relief. The Catholic Institute for International Relations has in true Labour style changed its name to Progressio. The actively perpetuated popular myth is that the Labour Party could not have got elected without changing its name to New Labour. No actual name change has occurred except in media terms and as the Blairite brand becomes increasingly discredited the New Labour label is quietly fading away. In the CIIR case, a strong argument has been made for the name change and it probably does better describe the work of the organisation in the 21st century. But what of the process with focus groups, evaluations etc - how much energy was spent on this process to make the organisation 'more professional'? The recent publication of the Faith in the Future document to raise £11.5 million for the work of the Bishops Conference was packed with management speak. Phrases like 'performance monitoring' - 'the keyword is engagement' and 'by 2010 the project will be capable of evaluation in a number of ways.' There is a degree of naivety in a proposal that believes business people are just drifting around ready to give their money away to the Church without wanting anything in return. The idea is good but in 'the real world of business' there ain't owt for nowt. It is easy of course to be critical of Church and voluntary sector organisations from outside. The neo-liberal agenda has so completely taken over, that in order to access funding and engage with government requires an ability to make out business plans and take on the language of the corporate world, however as Church we must not be taken over by it. The neo-liberal, market-rules-all approach is not the Church's agenda. Neo-liberalism is about individualism and the atomisation of people - remember Mrs Thatcher's famous words that there is no such thing as society. As Christians we believe the opposite, Church is based on community and the coming together of communities. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor summarised it well recently when he referred to 'the communion of communities.' Our values are Gospel values and it is from these that Church organisations should draw their own ethos for management. People must be our central concern. We must think creatively about the people who work for Church institutions and those they seek to serve. If people are put first then it will be the ultimate failure to make them redundant - a failure of management and mission. There are interesting examples from the United States of the success in the commercial world of organisations that put their staff first, customers second and shareholders last. There is some way for the Church to go on this agenda. It does not have a very good record as an employer. Remember when Catholic schools and Churches first took up the living wage campaigns and found that many of their own staff were being paid less than a living wage. All this can and should change, the blueprint for how the Church should run is to be found in the Gospels not in the offices of the CBI. The guidance is there in Catholic Social Teaching, which needs to be put into action in all of our institutions. We should be looking to create a new model of management based on the creativity of the human being, not the crushing monotony of the neo-liberal management model.
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