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Chancellor grants cathedrals £20 million for repairs

21 March 2014


On the case: George Osborne outside 11 Downing Street on Wednesday morning, before delivering the Budget Statement 

On the case: George Osborne outside 11 Downing Street on Wednesday morning, before delivering the Budget Statement 

THE Chancellor of the Exchequer smiled on cathedrals this week, announcing a £20-million grant scheme for repairs, "in recognition of their heritage significance and role in forthcoming remembrance activities to commemorate the First World War".

The grant, listed in the Budget on Wednesday, provides a new source of funding, which will be available for two years to Church of England and Roman Catholic Cathedrals in England.

Becky Clark, senior cathedrals officer in the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division of the Archbishops' Council, said that, after discussions with the Treasury, "We are exceptionally pleased with the level of funding."

There is currently no direct government funding for cathedrals, and the Heritage Lottery Fund, while "really generous", provided funding for development projects rather than fabric repairs, Ms Clark said. The Church of England predicts a £87 million repair-funding shortfall over the next five years.

The National Churches Trust welcomed the announcement, but warned that many of the country's 47,000 churches, chapels and meeting houses remained at risk, "especially those serving small rural communities".

Delivering his speech in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Osborne said: "If you're a maker, a doer or a saver, this Budget is for you." On Tuesday, he announced that all families receiving Universal Credit would be eligible to receive 85 per cent support on childcare costs, up from 70 per cent.

The chief executive of the Children's Society, Matthew Reed, said: "Making sure childcare is affordable to those who need it most is pivotal to making sure parents are not excluded from work by the prohibitive cost."

But he criticised the Chancellor's decision to cap welfare spending at £119 billion in 2015-16, which "takes no account of changing circumstances of families caught up in poverty facing rising living costs beyond their control, including childcare and rocketing rents".

On Thursday, the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, said that there was "much to welcome" in the Budget, "not least the news that economic growth is strengthening, [and] the long awaited transferable tax allowance for married couples."

The Chancellor announced that a spouse or civil partner not liable to income tax above the basic rate would be able to transfer £1,050 of their personal allowance to their spouse or civil partner (provided that the recipient is not liable to income tax above the basic rate).

Bishop Urquhart said that this was "a welcome step in the right direction in supporting those who choose marriage as a means to formalise their commitment. Government can and should go further, including addressing imbalances within the tax system that, as recent research has shown, continue to place an emphasis against single income earner families (News, 14 March).

He said: "I strongly support the Chancellor's commitment to thrift. . . However, greater emphasis in the Budget on promoting saving on the part of those on lower incomes - who are most in need of the financial buffer savings provide - would have been welcome." The impact of the cap on welfare was "most troubling . . . The poorest working families will benefit little from further increases in the personal tax allowance, either because they are already earning less than the current threshold or because most of the increase in their net earnings will be deducted from their benefits. Contrary to the rhetoric, it is not low income households who benefit most from these changes, but those on middle and higher incomes."

City for Ebbsfleet. On Sunday, the Chancellor announced that up to £200 million would be invested in a "Garden City" in Ebbsfleet, in north-west Kent. About 15,000 homes will be built on brownfield land.

The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, said that the announcement seemed to be bringing forward existing plans: "The local churches are already engaging with the new housing that is being built now, and we have been talking with the planners and developers about options for the future. . . We are determined to establish fruitful Christian presence within these new communities."

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