Alongside various political own goals in the pasty tax and the granny tax (to name but two), George Osborne’s budget on 21st March contained one proposal that is particularly toxic for the church. Without any consultation, the government now proposes to drop the zero-rated VAT allowance on approved alteration on listed buildings. This affects all of us, across the denominations, whether your church is a listed building or not.
You may have seen the YouTube video created by Pamela Greener, wife of the Dean of Wakefield Cathedral:
This is great entertainment deployed to make a serious point, and has received widespread media coverage, including on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme.
Why does this matter?
There are some 12,500 listed Anglican churches alone, and of course others from other denominations. Ancient churches have constantly changed in response to the changing needs of successive generations, and have rich multi-layered stories to tell. In our own times, the church is faced with the urgent need to modernise its facilities in order to respond better to the changing needs of our culture, and to continue to play its role in what is now termed “The Big Society”. Whether it is the installation of a single WC and somewhere to make coffee, or a large scale reordering and extension, these projects often make the difference between the burgeoning life of a community building with a future, or the sad management of decline. In rural locations these churches are often the only remaining community building in a village; in cities they equally valuable. To slap an additional 20% onto the costs of such projects is nonsensical in the context of the avowed aims of “The Big Society”.
And we are all affected by this, whether or not we worship in a listed building. Like it or not, these listed buildings are often the most visible buildings in our community – if they close, or even if they cannot afford to change, then this impacts on our society’s impression that the church is closed for business.
What Can You Do?
Tell everyone you know. Write to your MP. Sign the petitions on the Downing Street website, and make sure all of your church knows about this and encourage them to do the same. Note there are two of these petitions:
Bring back zero-rate VAT on alterations to listed churches – this was created by Janet Gough, who is Director of the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division of the Archbishops’ Council.
Save our heritage: say no to VAT on work on listed buildings – this was created by Jonathan Greener, who is Dean of Wakefield Cathedral.
These two overlap, so I suggest you sign both. If we can raise a petition of over 100,000 signatures, this will force a debate in parliament on the issue. We have a limited period of time to do this…
Don’t be fobbed off…
The government has proposed an extension of the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme, but this is wholly inadequate, for three reasons. Firstly the amount of the overall pot is capped at a much lower level than the demand (after all, the aim of the change is to save money). Secondly, the applicant does not know in advance how much if any of the money will be given back in grant – the proportion depends on who else is applying within that quarter, making it very difficult to plan. And thirdly the full value of the VAT needs to be raised and paid out before some of it can then be reclaimed. The LPWGS therefore does not in any way replace the current zero-rated arrangement.
Click here to see the letter written by The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, to the Treasury immediately after the Budget.
VAT Ditty – The Sequel
This second video was published in the last few days. Perhaps not as sharp as the first, but it is nice to see the ‘George Osborne sextet’ in action…