A CHURCH in Starbeck has criticised an unexpected £90,000 VAT bill for “flying in the face of the Big Society.”
St Andrew’s Church on the High Street has been left stunned by a proposed change to VAT rules in the Budget - but vowed it will not let the community suffer.
The church has been planning an £800,000 extension since 2005 to provide new community facilities, but discovered this month it will have to raise more than 10 per cent on top of this figure if government plans to make VAT payable on works to listed buildings go ahead.
The Rev Francis Wainaina, vicar of St Andrew’s, said: “This is a kick in the teeth. We are trying to emerge out of this and the government says, ‘we’re slapping something else on top of it’.
“This government just seems to be grabbing everything that it can find.”
Maurice Pinder, who is looking into grant funding for the project, said: “This is flying in the face of David Cameron’s Big Society.
“We’re here to provide aid to our community. We provide all sorts of services and now we’re going to get clobbered doing what he wants us to do.”
Mr Wainaina added: “If you take the church out of the equation of the Big Society, we’ll all be poorer.
“If we were not here, the mum and toddler groups wouldn’t take place, the lunch club for the elderly wouldn’t take place. Uniformed organisations, youth groups, children’s camp in the summer - what’s the Big Society if it’s not us being involved with our local community?”
The extension, to the west of the existing building, will house a new kitchen, a community room and new toilets, including disabled facilities.
It already has planning permission and is desperately needed because the church doesn’t have adequate kitchen or toilet facilities and its current hall is struggling to meet demand from groups within the church and in the surrounding community.
So far, nearly £160,000 has been raised, but around 70 per cent of the total cost will have to come from the congregation and the wider community. With no money available from the Church of England, the rest will need to be made up from grants, for which more than 40 applications have been made.
But leaders at the church, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010, insist the work will go ahead as planned.
Project manager Mike Langford said: “Work will still begin in September. We’re committed to the people of Starbeck.
“It’s not like it won’t happen because we haven’t got the money; we just hope the government changes its mind.
“We might have to reduce the project or do it in phases, but we will find a way because that’s what we do.”
The issue has been highlighted by the Church of England’s leaders nationally, who have pointed out that the organisation owns 46 per cent of the country’s Grade I listed buildings which will all be affected. They argue the measure was brought in to prevent people living in private listed buildings from avoiding tax on alterations and its impact on church communities had not been fully appreciated.
Andrew Jones, MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, said the government had brought in the changes to encourage people to repair and restore listed buildings - work which already had 20 per cent VAT attached - rather than building extensions, which did not previously attract any VAT.
He said: “It’s a proposal and the government is consulting on this issue.
“I will make sure that the views from this project are part of the consultation, which closes on May 4.
“Meanwhile, I will continue to support the project.
“We have three churches in Starbeck all working together as part of a very strong community. St Andrew’s seeking to build the extension is providing greater community facilities.”
Mr Pinder said he was also concerned about a new limit on charitable giving, which means donations over £50,000 to any charity will no longer benefit from tax relief - potentially deterring people from making large donations to any cause. He urged anyone concerned by the move and the changes to VAT to give their views to the government before the end of the consultation.
He added: “They’ve done themselves the most enormous amount of damage. I don’t think they realise that.”
l For more information about the project, visit www.starbeckwelcome.co.uk.