Osborne’s Budget raises the roof fund

20 March 2015

PA

In case: the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, on Wednesday

In case: the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, on Wednesday

A GOVERNMENT fund to repair listed church roofs has been more than trebled by the Chancellor, George Osborne. The fund had been heavily over-subscribed.

The Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund was initially set up in December. Mr Osborne announced in his Budget on Wednesday that the original £15-million pot of cash would be boosted by £40 million, to a total of £55 million.

Grants from £10,000 to £100,000 will be available for urgent repairs to roofs and parts of buildings that deal with rainwater (News, 5 December). More than 1900 applications were received from churches and other places of worship after the fund was first announced.

"Apparently we are not the only people who want to fix the roof when the sun is shining," Mr Osborne joked as he revealed the increase to Parliament.

The Archbishop of Canterbury hailed the increase as "most welcome", and good for everyone. "Trebling of money for church repairs will create local skilled jobs, improve community facilities, and protect heritage," he tweeted.

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, said that the Church was "enormously grateful" to Mr Osborne for promising more money.

"The nation's churches and cathedrals are irreplaceable historic buildings, which are important to both worshippers and the wider communities," he said. "This new funding will mean that many more parishes will be able to complete essential repairs to their churches, to continue to serve their communities well into the future."

The fund is being administered by the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Janet Gough, the director of ChurchCare, extended her thanks to the Fund, which has "made every effort to fulfil the church-roof repair fund grant assessments in an extremely tight time-frame, following the overwhelming demand".

The National Churches Trust, which funds repairs to churches, also welcomed the news. The Trust's chief executive Claire Walker said: "Making sure roofs are wind and watertight is a vital necessity for churches - if water penetrates inside a church, much greater damage can occur resulting in further expensive repairs.

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"I am sure that this funding will have widespread public support as churches are much loved buildings."

The new money is in addition to the £20-million fund announced by Mr Osborne in March last year for repairs to cathedrals (News, 21 March 2014). The first £4.7-million tranche of that money, to be given to 18 C of E and four Roman Catholic cathedrals, was revealed in August (News, 8 August 2014).

In a boost to the more than 6500 small charities across Britain which raise funds through street collections and sponsored events, the first £8000 they raise can have gift aid automatically claimed. It was previously limited to the first £5000.

Other aspects of the Budget were less well received. A statement from the Children's Society accused Mr Osborne of fixing the roofs but leaving "millions of children in the rain". The charity's chief executive, Matthew Reed, said: "With extra money available to the Chancellor, it is hugely disappointing that the Government has yet again failed to make extra funding available to protect children from sexual abuse, and to create a register of missing children.

"However much the Government talks about growth, significant cuts to welfare over the last five years mean that huge numbers of families - both working and non-working - continue to miss out."

Other measures announced in the Budget included an increase in the tax-free allowance to £10,800; allowing pensioners greater access to their annuities without incurring charges; the abolition of annual paper tax returns; and the first £1000 interest on savings accounts to be tax-free.

There were also new moves to crack down on tax avoidance but Christian Aid said that the plans did not go far enough. Joseph Stead, the charity's senior economic justice advisor, criticised the failure to force multinationals to publically report on their operations in developing countries.

"Keeping this crucial information hidden from public eyes means that developing countries are never going to get the information they need to tackle tax dodging," he warned.

The Roman Catholic Church's charitable arm in England and Wales, CSAN, also slammed the Chancellor, accusing his continuing programme of cuts of hitting the poorest and most vulnerable. However, they did welcome increased funding for mental health and the support for smaller charities through the Gift Aid changes.

But Alabare, a Christian charity which works with the homeless, applauded Mr Osborne's decision to use fines levied from banks during the LIBOR scandal to fund a project in Wiltshire they run for armed forces veterans who have struggled in civilians life.

The money given will enable the charity to house up to 12 former soldiers in Wilton who would otherwise have been homeless or living in unstable accommodation.

Danger of debt. Britain is sitting on a mountain of personal debt which could threaten the financial stability of the nation, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has said. Speaking in a House of Lords debate on Thursday of last week, Dr Smith told peers that in recent decades it had become normal to live with high levels of debt.

One way to reverse this trend was to improve the quality of financial advice available to people. He said that the Church of England strongly supported the Government-run Money Advice Service; and hundreds of Anglican parishes hosted debt-advice centres.

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