Render unto Caesar

Some months before Budget day, Mother Revenue was clearing out her tax cupboard and found some things that had lingered for a while and were beginning to take on an unpleasant smell. “Borderline anomalies” she muttered, “these zero-rates and exemptions were designed to determine the tax treatment of the goods and services which existed when VAT was introduced in 1973 and are long past their repeal date.”   More mutterings, “In some cases the reliefs have been exploited by avoiders or non compliant businesses, allowing them to secure an unfair advantage over other businesses. Tch! Tch!” So Mother Revenue decided that they must go. “I’ll slip them onto the Starters List for the Budget and hopefully the Chancellor will not notice….”

And so it was. Amid the clarification of the VAT treatment of catering to make sure that all hot takeaway food is taxed together with sports nutrition drinks, and self storage, rental of hairdressers’ chairs and holiday caravans are all taxed correctly – approved alterations to certain listed buildings formerly zero-rated will now be taxed at the standard rated of 20%.

Meanwhile…., in a tiny architectural gem, a Scottish Episcopal church alongside one of the busiest commuter routes in Aberdeenshire, the vestry committee was meeting. It would be a good idea, they thought, to offer disabled toilet facilities in the church so that folks would not have to make their way to the village hall where the facilities are not so, ahem, convenient. And we could add a kitchen to offer refreshments after the church service. And what about a quiet meeting room where folks in the hamlet and others could meet in congenial surroundings with all facilities on hand? The village hall is a bit of a barn and expensive to heat and not really conducive for small clubs and the like. The vestry so resolved and a warm feeling was generated about making small contribution to the ‘big society.’

Plans were drawn up to alter the Grade B listed building.  Few realise it has a colourful connection with Westminster Abbey through its interior architect Sir Ninian Comper. The son of an Episcopal priest in Aberdeen, Sir Ninian produced the beautiful painted glass windows for All Saints’, Whiterashes about the same time that he was producing similar windows for Westminster Abbey. The congregation was consulted, the neighbours approached about drainage matters and plans were commissioned for listed building consent, planning permission and approval of the diocesan buildings committee.

But then…. the Chancellor, George Osborne, made his bombshell announcement in the Budget. Actually, the weasel words were slipped sotto voce into Chapter 2, para 179. of budget2012_documents.htm (if you’re really interested). Consternation in the vestry committee! This will add at least £12,000 to the building cost! Can we now afford to go ahead and undertake the works required? This is a real blow to our ministry and mission, as we try to improve our facilities and make them more widely used by the community.

Of course, anticipating an unfavourable reaction, Mother Revenue had carefully pointed out in the accompanying Treasury document that the Government was ‘extending’ the scope of the Grant Scheme administered by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to include reimbursement of VAT for approved alterations. The document did not however promise any increase in funding of the scheme. So an already inadequately covered scheme would simply be apportioned among a larger group of claimants.

So what to do? Render unto Caesar the extra VAT due [Mark 12:17]?

“By no means,” as St Paul would have spluttered [various]. Let’s contact our local MP and add this to the many examples of how this extra 20% charge will impact on the communities and fundraising of churches across the UK.

Repent therefore Chancellor! We shall come to you and will fight you with the sword of our mouths [Revelation 2:16].

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