BY ANNA ARCO
THE AID AGENCY of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has cut dozens of staff so it can continue to fund overseas programmes.
In the last six months Cafod shed 40 existing jobs as part of an 18 month-long saving drive.
James Steel, Cafod’s finance director, said the adjustments came as part of a conscious effort to make savings at home in order to continue to fund programmes abroad in the face of the economic downturn. He said the organisation was being careful in order to be in good shape during the recession.
He said: “We are just taking care in uncertain times. We want to be prepared for whatever comes to us.” The decision to pare down operations came at the height of the financial crisis in 2008.
With Cafod’s partners abroad already suffering from the weak pound and high inflation – Cafod’s donations are given in sterling – the organisation decided to “try to focus on protecting our partners abroad”, Mr Steel said. He pointed out that Cafod was able to continue funding international aid projects and that no money had been taken out of any of the programmes, despite the financial crisis.
Mr Steel said the organisation had continued to receive steady support from its donors despite the gloomy economic situation for the financial year 2008-2009.
He said: “Two thirds of our income for funding comes from our supporters. This has held up really well and we have a good support base in the Catholic community itself.” Cafod had experienced a fall in income from legacies due to falling property prices and lower bank interest. Income from the legacies was £6 million in March 2009 and he said he expected it would be lower for 2009-2010.
The agency was still due to finalise its accounts for 20092010 and was expecting auditors at the beginning of June.
The last 10 years have been a period of rapid growth for the aid agency, Mr Steel said. In 1998, when he started working for the organisation, its international aid programme was around £19 million compared with today’s programme of around £50 million.
The organisation moved from its headquarters in Brixton to newly completed £11million buildings next to St George’s Cathedral in Southwark last week.
When Cafod moved into its Brixton headquarters in 1982 its international aid programme was about £2million and it had 30 staff members.
By 2006 the agency outgrew its Brixton offices and announced in 2007 that it would develop the site in Southwark, arguing that this was the most cost-effective long-term way of dealing with the issue.
Mr Steel said that the new building was largely funded by the sale of the buildings in Stockwell and Brixton – the main part of the sales of the old buildings had gone through – and that the remaining part would be taken from Cafod’s contingency fund.
The sale of the old offices is reported to have raised £4.6 million so far and the sale of the remaining buildings is expected to raise just over £500,000. Mr Steel said: “We thought it was better to use the money from the contingency funds than to hold on to it. This way we are investing part of it. If it comes to the point where we need the money, we can take a loan against the building.” Cafod funds development programmes and provides emergency relief. The agency is a member of Caritas, a group of 170 international Catholic aid agencies. Cafod helped raise almost £5million in donations towards relief work in earthquake-torn Haiti.