Pioneer is a network of churches and Christian organisations established in 1985. The organisation is made up of a wide range of individuals from very diverse backgrounds. As a network we do not have any political allegiances or take any political stance – except to take a stand against political extremism – and we welcome people of all political persuasions. In our churches there are people who are members of all the mainstream political parties and serve their local communities in a variety of ways.
We believe that central to the message of Christ is the injunction to love our neighbour. This is outworked in a variety of ways – individual members pursuing their vocation to serve their neighbour in health care, local politics, business and education; churches responding to the needs in their communities, such as, establishing foodbanks, debt advice centres, job clubs, teaching English as a foreign language, housing projects, parent and toddler groups; partnering with local authorities to find creative solutions to the economic challenges being faced by many, e.g. promoting the need for more foster families and partnering with local authorities to provide services for families, children and the elderly.
We want to ensure that all of the work we engage in is transparent, open to public scrutiny and accountable. We endorse the Nolan principles for public service and encourage individuals working within local authorities or other public bodies to adhere to the principles laid out in Nolan. Their first priority is to the public not a church leader, vicar or priest. Organisations and churches that operate across Pioneer must be well governed, have clear safeguarding policies and transparent financial processes in place.
There have been two issues recently raised that appear to bring into question Pioneer’s commitment to openness and transparency as stated above. The first has to do with the process that a Pioneer church, New Community Church in Southampton, was involved with in a bid to open two Academies in the city in 2007. The City Council at that time had made a decision to close four secondary schools and invited community groups to bid to open two new schools. Oasis Community Learning together with the Diocese of Winchester Education Board, New Community Network and the YMCA put in an application to open and run these two new schools. The bid was successful and the two new Academies opened in September 2008. In a talk to another Southampton church in early 2012 Billy Kennedy seemed to indicate that the success of the bid was made as a ‘religious favour’ by the then Conservative cabinet member responsible for education. This was not the case. The bid was scrutinised in detail alongside other bids by members of the local education authority, council officers and the city council cabinet. In every scrutiny the Oasis bid scored highest. There was a change in the make up of the council during the consultation and scrutiny period. The council member appointed to the education portfolio had sent his two children to King’s School, which at that time was run by New Community Network, and so had first hand experience of the quality of education that New Community Network was able to provide. He was also aware of the work of Oasis nationally and interacted regularly with the Director of Education for the Diocese of Winchester. The council member was not a personal friend of any individual on the bid team. Once the decision was made in favour of the Oasis the decision was referred for further scrutiny and this process also confirmed the decision to award the two new schools to Oasis and it’s partners.
The second question has to do with a meeting that was conducted at the Civic Centre between members of the city council and the church. The context for the meeting was to explore possible partnerships between the city and the church in areas where significant cuts were being made to local services. Billy Kennedy, in his capacity as chair of the Southampton Christian Network, met with Clive Webster, Director of Children’s Services, and his deputy, Alison Alexander.In the meeting there was discussion around the implication of funding cuts across the directorate. Clive and Alison suggested that the four priority areas where the church could explore partnership would be in fostering & adoption, youth provision, post 16 housing and the impact of the new benefit system on the most vulnerable. They also suggested that the city council would prefer a single point of contact for these discussions. Billy explained how the church was organised in the city with the Churches Together in Southampton and the Southampton Christian Network being the two main umbrella bodies. Billy suggested that these two bodies should find a way to collaborate to enable better communication both across the churches and with the city. A further meeting was organised between the city council and the church that Alison Alexander would chair. At this meeting Alison Alexander invited six council officers and a city councillor. Two of the council officers had been invited specifically because of their roles within the local authority but also because they were church members and could provide a bridge in the conversation. During introductions at the start of the conversation both of these council officers declared their ‘interest’ by clearly stating that they were church members. Councillor Sarah Bogle, cabinet member for Children’s Services, was unable to attend the meeting and asked Councillor Darren Paffey to deputise for her. She invited Councillor Paffey to attend because he was the city council’s lead for looked after children and was also a church member. Again, at the start of this meeting Councillor Paffey declared his interest.
Since this meeting a new body has been formed, Love Southampton, chaired the Bishop of Southampton and drawing together church leaders and members from a wide variety of church backgrounds. Regular meetings are held between members of the Love Southampton steering group and council officers. Useful partnerships have been formed that have resulted in a very successful campaign across the faith communities to find more foster families in the city, church based youth workers providing open access youth provision in some of the city’s youth centres, a course for leaders of church-based parent and toddler groups to raise standards and the appointment of a full-time chaplain to the elderly.
We recognise and acknowledge other existing faith/civic relationships and believe Love Southampton can make a valuable contribution alongside these.
We have also had conversations with the Southampton Voluntary Services team and are exploring ways the Love Southampton can serve existing voluntary organisations.
Pioneer is committed, alongside others, to these sort of partnerships as an expression of the church’s response to the needs in our towns and cities.
For further information go to www.lovesouthampton.org.uk