02 July 2015, The Tablet

Vicar accused over handling of 10 redundancies in Brentwood

Brentwood diocese paid scant attention to gospel values when they made 10 members of staff redundant, it was claimed this week.

Sr Nuala Gannon IBVM, who was diocesan adviser for adult religious education for 17 years, said the process had been handled “terribly” by Fr Andrew Headon, Episcopal Vicar for Administration, and other members of the diocesan strategic planning group. “I would never have imagined I would be treated like this by the Church,” she said. She added she had not been allowed to finish leading a one-year course that was only three weeks away from completion, which she considered was a “grave injustice” to the students.

Her views were echoed by two former colleagues, Elisabeth Abbott and Davina Bolt, who were secretary for the Marriage and Family Life Department and director of the Social Justice Department respectively, for 12 and 18 years.

Mrs Bolt said the worst thing was the fact that the process failed to value staff. “In three weeks the diocese wiped away 30 years’ worth of work by those who have worked in Brentwood for social justice,” she said.

Mrs Abbott said she and other staff members understood that it was not easy to make staff members redundant but that Brentwood had fallen far short of what was acceptable. “There were things they could have done to make us feel valued and make us feel we were part of a church organisation,” she said. “Instead it was completely clinical and you felt as though you had no voice. I have no doubt that they did everything legally, but it was very cold and heartless.”

All three said they were disappointed in Bishop Alan Williams, who took over in Brentwood diocese last year from Bishop Thomas McMahon who had led the diocese since 1980. “He [Bishop Williams] was conspicuous by his absence the whole time,” said Mrs Abbott.

A member of the Brentwood diocesan pastoral council, Mark Lee, contacted The Tablet to voice his sadness about the way the redundancies had been carried out. “The changes, swiftly implemented with scant consultative dialogue with the staff made redundant, do not feel like our Church being the exemplary employer, committed to justice, that it ought to be,” he said. “It is essential the manner in which [redundancies are made] far exceeds the bare legal minimum.”

Fr Headon, who explained the case for the diocese’s decision to make redundancies in last week’s Tablet, said he completely disagreed that the process had been badly handled. “There’s no good way of giving bad news,” he said. “But I counter the narrative that these staff members are putting about.”

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