Archbishop on defensive over economy speech

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THE Archbishop of Canterbury has defended his decision to speak out on the economy and shrugged off any anger from Downing Street, insisting “sometimes feathers get ruffled”.

The Rt Rev Justin Welby, who took over the role last month, this week described Britain as being in a “depression” that would take “something very, very major to get us out of it”.

The speech, delivered at an event at Westminster, was seen as an unusual choice of topic for a holder of his office, despite his business background and membership of the Parliament’s banking standards commission.

The Archbishop’s intervention also came at a politically sensitive time as the Government waited for the latest economic figures which showed that the economy grew by 0.3 per cent in the first quarter of the year, so avoiding a triple-dip recession.

Asked in a radio interview to be broadcast today whether he minded ruffling feathers, he said: “I don’t know if it annoyed people in Number 10. They haven’t said anything here. I mean they probably would have preferred it not said.

“Historically depressions have been recognised as lengthy periods in which the economy did not get back to its previous level of activity before a recession set in. So 1929 to 1932 is the great example. There was a big one towards the end of the 19th century.

“We are still significantly below where we were in 2007 in terms of economic activity, of GDP, and that’s quite a long time of being below.

“Now, I’m not pointing any fingers at anyone in particular and saying it’s so and so’s fault or so and so’s fault, it’s simply a measurable fact coming from the national statistics.

“It’s very much less noticeable in London, I have to say, than in the North-East where I was living previously.

“Do I mind ruffling feathers? I think I do mind ruffling feathers, I don’t like ruffling feathers – but sometimes feathers get ruffled. I mean that’s life.”

Asked during the interview for Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster whether the Archbishop, a former oil executive, saw it as part of his mission to try to inject more morality into British financial life, he said: “My key mission is to lead the church in worshipping Jesus Christ and encouraging people to believe in him and follow him. That’s my mission.

“The Christian gospel has always had strong social implications and one of them is around the common good and it’s one of the key areas in which the Church of England focuses, and so issues of how the City of London, which is so important and so full of very gifted people, how that behaves in relation to the common good is very key, not to the whole thing that I’m about or the church is about, but to how we express the implications of that in day-to-day life.”

In his speech earlier in the week, Archbishop Welby suggested the Government may need to recapitalise at least one major bank, and urged the creation of regional banks.

The Archbishop denied a suggestion that he meant that the bank to be recapitalised was the Royal Bank of Scotland, saying he would not name a bank.

He added: “I think the principle is that we need more regional banking. The appeal of regional banking is first that you have slightly smaller banks. I’m not talking about mini banks.

“Again, the evidence we’ve heard is that once you go over about a hundred billion pounds of balance sheet there are no economies of scale.

“If any there are diseconomies of being too big and the costs of that. And secondly, as a regional bank, inevitably you get a commitment to your local region to making it flourish. If you’re a long way away from somewhere you have less emotional commitment to that area.

“The idea that has been suggested recently that that will result in sort of crony banking where, you know, regions just look after their own in a modern regulated environment, is completely absurd.”