Architects have branded the government’s decision to cut back the Listed Places of Worship grant scheme ‘a kick in the teeth’
Last week, architecture minister John Penrose announced he will stop churches and other places of worship claiming grants for VAT on architects’ fees until April, as part of the government’s budget cuts.
Churches will also be barred from recouping VAT on work to clocks, pews, bells, organs under the changes to the grant scheme which applies to all repair work and professional fees.
Jane Kennedy, a conservation specialist from Purcell Miller Tritton, which has just closed its Sheffield office and moved staff to York, said: ‘This is a kick in the teeth for architects and will encourage churches to work without architects.
‘This work is not tremendously profitable, requires care and detail and requires architects to work hours they don’t get paid for.’
When first introduced in 2001 the doomed VAT scheme did not apply to architects, but it was later extended. The Church of England, which has 12,500 listed buildings, currently receives around £1 million a month in recovered VAT.
Nicholas Rank, director of Manchester-based Buttress Fuller Alsop Williams Architects, added: ‘This is a direct hit for those churches that have got projects running into next year.
‘This is a double whammy in that VAT is going up to 20 per cent next year and will have a fairly significant impact on churches.’
Rank added: ‘A lot of church work is carried out by small one to five-man practices. It is their bread-and-butter work and if there is any fragility in that sector it will hurt the employment opportunities there.’
Rob Craggs, director of Calls Architecture, added: ‘While the government may consider this a modest cost saving, the extra burden on the churchgoer will be hard, and is to be regretted. However, the bigger question is what will happen to the scheme after April 2011. It must be allowed to continue, even in its reduced form.’
He added: ‘Far and away the majority of our Church Councils comprise volunteers, who probably do not realise what they are taking on when accepting their roles; unfortunately, most find that continual fund raising is essential just to pay running costs, and actually budgetting for repairs and maintenance is considered a luxury.
‘This announcement will add to their already thankless, and seemingly endless, burden. Clocks, pews, bells and organs form just an important part of our heritage as the shells that house them. As for professional fees, yet more pressure on architects to do more for less.’
Penrose said: ‘Everyone is being asked to make savings so I’m afraid we cannot exclude this scheme, however much I would like to.’
A decision on the future of the scheme after April is expected in the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, announced next week.
The changes come into effect on 4 January 2011 and will apply until 31 March.
Cathedral architect Ian Salisbury said:
‘If there is a certainty in this it is that the rate of decay of our historic buildings will not change. Delay now means a greater cost down the road, and any advantage of “stitch in time” repairs is lost.’
Crispin Truman, Chair of Places of Worship at Heritage Alliance, and CEO of the Churches Conservation Trust said:
‘The Listed Places of Worship scheme has helped around nine thousand communities to repair their historic places of worship. Any loss of scope under the scheme is to be regretted, but we appreciate that the Department needs to contribute to the savings needed, and are pleased that denominations had a chance to comment on the proposals. We welcome the decision to meet the VAT increase from January albeit on slightly reduced scope, and would renew our calls for the scheme to be continued from April 2011.’