Saturday 7 April 2012

VAT: worry about histroic buildings, not pasties.

There has been much publicity regarding George Osborne's decision in the budget to charge VAT on warm Cornish pasties, and I've enjoyed David Cameron's thwarted attempt to prove he is a "man of the people" and once ate one in Leeds. However, this furore is just a populist storm in a teacup (yes, I know, there ought to be a better metaphor, but I can't think of one): merely an attempt to introduce fairness by taxing hot pastries in the same way as fish and chips.

What is far more serious in the long run, and will even have consequences when we're all dead, is the decision to apply VAT on repairs and renovations to listed buildings. Historic churches will be among those affected. The Cathedral of our diocese, Wakefield, has just embarked on a major renovation project assuming that it would be VAT free. Osborne's proposal will, if implemented, add £200 000 to the expected costs, which the Church simply hasn't, at the moment, got. I'm sure donations will be welcomed.

More to the point there is apparently an opportunity for discussion, so please send your views to (Sorry, can't get the link thing to work.)

In France, which has the highest number of tourist visitors in Europe, the government actually contributes towards the cost of maintaining its historic buildings. It is daft that we propose to do the opposite. You'd think that a party called Conservative would actually want to conserve our heritage, even if only for its commercial potential for attracting tourists.


  1. Totally agree - is this the big society?
    Cameron and Osbourne are philistines.
    They should go back to the Bullingdon where they belong.
    Surely ongoing projects should still be exempt?
    We really are all in it together.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Stuart. That ongoing projects should be exempt is an obvious first step, but if we show any sense at all we should go much further, not only exempting historic buildings from paying VAT on their repairs and maintenance, but also giving them state support, as happens in France.

    Many of these buildings are churches and it is ridiculous that the cost of their care and upkeep should devolve on the dwindling band of Churchgoing believers. Their importance to our culture, and, perhaps shamefully, our economic survival, far exceeds their functions as places of worship.

    The recommended economics textbook for a course I'm teaching at the moment has this to say about the UK's comparative advantage in international trade:

    "The UK has an abundance of history. Castles, battlefields, the monarchy and parliament all attract visitors. We can produce history better than most and, in exchange, France provides us with wine, India with textiles, Australia with sheep and Barbados with tropical holidays."

    A bit of a comedown from being the workshop of the world, but perhaps a more durable asset than being a Mecca for financial whiz-kids. I do not relish the thought of our surviving by dressing in smocks, carrying pitchforks and re-enacting battles, but these may be an important reality in our future, and historic buildings will play an essential part.

    So the government should look beyond the next election and "get real."

  3. Rather than impose VAT on alterations to listed buildings the Government should recognise their importance and make a proper effort to keep them in good order by removing VAT altogether from repairs and alterations. There should also be a sensible adjustment to the fiscal arrangements to recognise that owners of these properties are everyday philanthropists and should have the first £50K spent allowable against their income tax as other donors to the public good are apparently encouraged. The present arrangements lead often to huge hardship to vulnerable individuals

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