THE Government’s proposed VAT changes continue to attract opposition from MPs (News, 20 April), as dioceses give examples of how they see their contribution to the “Big Society” as threatened by proposals dubbed a “heritage tax”.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Tony Baldry MP, told the House of Commons on Thursday of last week that the Church of England would continue to push for an exemption for listed places of worship. He said that the Chancellor had promised to consider this “carefully”.
“They obviously want to consider the legal implications of a VAT exemption just for alterations to listed places of worship. . . Dialogue is constructive and positive.”
The Liberal Democrat MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, Simon Hughes, agrees with the Church of England that the Government’s current proposal to extend the listed places of worship scheme “does not solve the problem”.
The Conservative MP for North Wiltshire, James Gray, also opposed the replacement of the VAT exemption with a discretionary grant because “it would go only to those churches chosen by commissioners or other individuals, and lots of churches that currently have the exemption would therefore no longer have it.”
The Conservative MP for Congleton, Fiona Bruce, said that she had received objections from many members of the Church of England in her constituency. She suggested that the Treasury should help those churches that have already undertaken ongoing works, and that the Listed Places of Worship scheme be reviewed “over a period of years”.
Of the 312 churches across the diocese of Truro, 56 are carrying out repairs and alterations this year, the Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth, Sarah Newton, reported. The proposed VAT change is estimated to add £405,000 to the cost of these works.
On Monday, the diocese of Portsmouth warned that the change to the VAT rules would add £6000 to the cost of a £30,000 project to alter its main entrance to help disabled people enter the cathedral.
The Dean of Portsmouth, the Very Revd David Brindley, said that the “unneccessary extra VAT burden” would make the plans more difficult to achieve.
The Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Christopher Foster, said: “This is a real blow for hard-working church congregations who faithfully hold their coffee mornings and sponsored events to raise enough money to help preserve and develop the nation’s heritage.”
The e-petition opposing the tax on alterations to listed buildings has now attracted more than 23,000 signatures, but will not be considered for debate in the House of Commons unless it secures 100,000.