COUNCIL candidates joined calls for the government to rethink tax changes that could cost churches thousands of pounds.
Figures from across the Anglican Church’s Portsmouth Diocese have pleaded with Chancellor George Osborne to abandon plans for a ‘heritage tax’ that would increase the cost of improvements.
Now council hopefuls in the hotly-contested St Thomas ward, which contains Portsmouth Cathedral, have said the coalition should look again at the proposal.
The controversy follows similar outcries over ‘pasty’ and ‘granny’ taxes announced in the budget and centres on changes that would see VAT charged on alterations to listed buildings.
Cathedral dean David Brindley said in reality this means a £30,000 project to provide disabled access by transforming the cathedral’s main entrance is now likely to cost a further £6,000.
He argued that the unexpected announcement will hit congregations that have worked hard to secure grants or raise money to improve their church, with some of them seeing their bills rise by 20 per cent.
The Church of England calculates this could add £20m every year to work on its 12,500 listed buildings.
An e-petition on this issue is the fastest-growing one on the Downing Street website at the moment and already has more than 15,000 signatures.
Mr Brindley said: ‘We have regular disabled worshippers and a toddler group that attracts 20 or so mums and dads with pushchairs, as well as visitors who use this entrance during the week.
‘We wanted to make it more welcoming and accessible by installing automatic glass doors and removing the step inside the entrance.
‘This unnecessary extra VAT burden will make our plans, and those of thousands of other churches and cathedrals around the country, more difficult to achieve.’
Taj Uddin, Labour hopeful for St Thomas, said he didn’t think it was right to use a commercial tax to raise money from churches and heritage projects.
‘This move has got to be a bad thing,’ he said.
‘I don’t think parts of the heritage industry and people dealing with listed buildings should have to pay more.
‘In Portsmouth, our economy benefits a lot from our history and the tourism it brings, so we should be doing this.’
Conservative candidate Angus Ross said he thought the measure was a bad idea that hadn’t been thought through.
‘It would think it is a great shame if the church has to start paying VAT on refurbishments,’ he said. ‘Because the money for things such as this can take a long time to raise.
‘It was probably something of an afterthought.
‘I don’t know if it needs to happen. I would be upset about it but I’m in no position to say whether it is really needed or not.’
Candidate for the Trade Unionists and Socialists Coalition Billy Perry said he disagreed with the budget entirely.
‘I definitely don’t agree with this measure,’ he said. ‘We think the government doesn’t need to make cuts and raise taxes like this.
‘The money is there – it’s just that the banks and big companies won’t pay their fair share.’
A spokesman for the Treasury insisted the measure is justified and that it was unfair that wealthy individuals were able to make alterations to listed mansions without incurring VAT.
He said: ‘Over time significant anomalies have developed, causing very similar products to be taxed very differently.
‘The government is taking steps to correct these anomalies, including aligning the alterations of listed buildings with the existing VAT treatment of repairs.’