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Cathedrals confront cash crises with endowment plan

20 July 2012

PEERS and bishops urged the Government last month to provide an endowment of £50 million for cathedrals.

A debate on English cathedrals, moved by Lord Cormack, a Conservative peer and former General Synod member, took place in the House of Lords on 28 June. Opening the debate, Lord Cormack proposed that the £50 million be "provided as an endowment for the cathedrals of England over the next five years, with the money given to and channelled through English Heritage".

Last month, Lord Cormack convened a meeting of MPs, peers, and cathedral deans. He said that he had been "reminded by those who have the daily charge of our cathedrals what a key role they play in the social, cultural, civic, and national life of England".

It needed to be recognised, Lord Cormack said, "that there is no automatic direct funding from the state to support our cathedrals, nor is there such funding from the Church Commissioners. They provide for the stipend of the dean and two canons, but that is about all. To a large degree, the cathedrals are still self-financing."

Lord Cormack said that he was "grateful" that the Chancellor had "responded" to protest about the "VAT bombshell in the Budget" ( News, 16 May). "The VAT exemption does not touch anything other than the actual place of worship. It is also limited to the year 2015; so there is no certainty of continuity. That is a pity, and a great worry to those who are concerned with these issues. Money from the Heritage Lottery Fund, for which again we are all grateful, can go to interpretive schemes and to new extensions, but not to the maintenance of the actual fabric of the cathedral."

Lady Andrews, who chairs English Heritage, said: "I very much endorse what he [Lord Cormack] asked the Minister for; it is not easy for us to ask in our own name for additional funding." She continued: "The work of restoration and repair-conservation of brick, glass, wood, paintings, silver, and so much else, is endless and expensive."

The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, said that "some £100 million over ten years needs to be spent across the country in ordinary cyclical repairs" to cathedrals. He said that there was "still a gap between the Cathedrals Division grant and the overall cost that has to be paid every year".

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, gave his maiden Lords speech during the debate. He said that "cathedrals offer something that is most definitely in the public interest in all sorts of areas. They are a precious part of the inheritance of this nation, and enrich our common life immeasurably".

The Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, supported Lord Cormack's suggestion of a £50-million endowment for cathedrals. "If you compare it with the amount of money in terms of the fuel excise duty that has been so much in the news in the last few days, or, indeed, the £1.3 billion that will go to the European Union . . . £50 million is as nothing."

Responding for the Government, Lady Northover said that she would "flag up the concerns expressed" during the debate with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Treasury. Acknowledging Lord Cormack's request for a £50-million endowment for cathedrals, Lady Northover said that the Government had "committed an additional £30 million a year to the Listed Places of Worship Scheme, and £500 million to heritage organisations over this spending period."


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