Archbishop of Canterbury to step down

Rowan Williams to stand down at the end of the year to take up position at Magdalene College, Cambri

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is to step down from his position to become master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

Williams, who was appointed the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury in 2001, will leave his office at the end of December 2012, in order to take up his new position in January 2013.

In a statement, he said:

It has been an immense privilege to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury over the past decade, and moving on has not been an easy decision. During the time remaining there is much to do, and I ask your prayers and support in this period and beyond. I am abidingly grateful to all those friends and colleagues who have so generously supported Jane and myself in these years, and all the many diverse parishes and communities in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion that have brought vision, hope and excitement to my own ministry. I look forward, with that same support and inspiration, to continuing to serve the Church's mission and witness as best I can in the years ahead.

Williams' time as Archbishop of Canterbury has been defined by consistent adherence to his principles, even where this led him into controversy. As we wrote in a New Statesman editorial in October:

There is an admirable fearlessness about Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Whether it is guest-editing the New Statesman, as he did in June, and using his platform to offer a cogent and dispassionate analysis of the failings of our political leaders - left and right - or challenging Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, he understands that, as the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, he has a duty to be heard and to offer ethical guidance.

In particular, he was outspoken on behalf of those in our society most in need, even where this took him directly into the political arena, from which many men of the church have shied away. He caused an enormous stir after he used his editorial for the New Statesman in June to say that Britain was being committed to "radical, long-term policies for which no one voted".

All may not have agreed with him, but it is undeniable that his will be big shoes to fill.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.