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Breakfast with Andrew Waller

One Voice and Churches Together were pleased to welcome the Leader of the City of York Council Andrew Waller to breakfast on Wednesday 26th November 2008.

After an excellent full English breakfast in the Spurriergate Centre, Chris Cullwick of the City Centre Chaplaincy introduced Andrew Waller and he spoke to us on the theme of cooperation between churches and the council.

He told how he was brought up in church with Book of Common Prayer but was given the choice whether or not to attend. He chose to stay in church but whilst studying Physics at Imperial College in London he discovered “smells and bells”. He said that “I am doing my best to maintain a balance between church membership and how I do life and politics”.

Ahead of the Game 
Cn Waller said that “reinvigorating civic society is part of the mission of politics and the church”. He told us that although there were huge areas for improvement that he was a “glass half-full person” and that things are better here than in other cities. He said that there is a lot to build on but a lot of work to do especially with the marginalised.

Because of the loss of jobs over a year ago with the closure of British Sugar and reductions in staffing at Nestle and Norwich Union, York now found itself ahead of the game. Lots of work has already gone into examining the local economy. York has consistently been producing 1500 new jobs a year and has developed a more diverse economy than the old traditions of railways and confectionary.

Andrew said that “we haven’t seen the full effects of the recession in York yet – previous experience has shown we may be 18 months behind other parts in seeing the full effect”. Although York has 13000+ people below the poverty line it typically receives two thirds of the funding that might be expected – York is having to learn to be efficient!

Links and Liberals
Keen to invigorate the connections between church and council, Andrew re-introduced the long lost role of personal chaplain to the leader of the council with Richard Seed.  He went on to say that “we need to get over the idea that church and state don’t mix – I disagree with my leader (Liberal Nick Clegg) who has come out as an atheist about disestablishment. Politicians are answerable to the people but also to God”.

Andrew said that some people say that it is enough that the Lord Mayor has engagements with the church but it isn’t the same as the council engaging directly with the church.

The Councillor expressed that we live in a city of tourism and the churches are part of the draw that brings people here. He said that it was his desire to see a forum for all, where each sector of society could make its voice heard.

The church must demonstrate relevance to the life of city. Just as the Science Park is not just about men in white coats but has a positive benefit to the city, the Church must let us know what it is doing.

Prayer & Skin
Andrew closed by saying because of the self-interest, personal agendas and constant problems encountered in politics that leaders are faced with the choice of becoming detached or trying to maintain a thin skin which results in some pain. He encouraged us to stand together through the difficult times.

Cn Waller asked us to pray about city projects, communication within the council and with the city and getting all councillors on the side of what is in the best interest of the city and individuals. He also said that homelessness and the risk of house repossessions in the current climate were a great concern to him but that he was working on projects to help relieve the situation.

This opportunity for engagement was a positive experience and the churches of York thank Cn Waller for giving his time so generously for this event.

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