[ACNS] Britain’s finance minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has this afternoon delivered the annual budget speech to MPs in the House of Commons; and the Church of England has been quick to respond to two measures which will affect churches.
The first is the announcement of a £20 million cathedral repairs fund. It follows a similar provision in the 2014 budget, which “went a long way to help meet the costs of urgent repairs to these buildings and support local fundraising efforts by Church of England and Roman Catholic Cathedrals,” the Church of England said in a statement.
“We are deeply grateful to the Government for the pledge of continuing funding for Cathedral repairs,” the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, Dean of Lichfield and chair of the Association of English Cathedrals, said. “Every Cathedral faces steep challenges in keeping this great collection of inspiring and historic buildings safely and properly; whereby we can continue to welcome nearly a quarter of the English population every year.
“Cathedrals play an important role as community hubs: they foster volunteering, music making, public debate and social action, alongside their primary task of worship and prayer. They seek to be constantly accessible to the public and offer a setting where some of the big questions in life can be asked, alongside a tradition of wisdom and hospitality that can minister to the diverse needs of all who come. We also play a role in economic regeneration and are increasingly recognised as important contributors to local and regional economies.
“What we spend on repairs helps us sustain craft skills and local employment. We congratulate the Chancellor on helping us steward and sustain a key national asset.”
The announcement was also welcomed by the director of the C of E’s Cathedral and Church Buildings Division, Janet Gough, who said: “The value of Cathedrals as community hubs is now being recognised widely and I warmly welcome the Government’s continued support for the amazing work that goes on in these culturally important buildings, the Jewels in the Crown of our built heritage.”
The C of E said that “cathedrals are active community hubs hosting activities from food bank collection, lunch clubs for older people, parent and toddler groups and support for vulnerable groups such as the homeless to concerts, exhibitions and of course daily worship.”
It said that its 42 cathedrals in England “welcome over 11m visitors a year, including over 300,000 children on school trips.
“Research has shown that 78 per cent of people living in a city with a cathedral felt it was at the heart of their city.”
In addition to the fund for cathedral repairs, the Chancellor also announced changes to the structures of schools. The history of universal education in England and Wales was begun, primarily, by the creation of churches by church groups. Each school was managed by a local trust. In the early 1900s schools were taken under the control of local authorities – with church schools continuing to be supported by diocesan boards of education.
In recent years, schools were allowed to apply to become self-governing academies, run by trusts outside of local authority control. This afternoon the Chancellor said that all schools in England must become academies by 2020 or have official plans to do so by 2022.
“Providing great schooling is the single most important thing we can do to help any child from a disadvantaged background succeed,” the Chancellor said. “It’s also the single most important thing we can do to boost the long-term productivity of our economy; because our nation’s productivity is no more and no less than the combined talents and efforts of the people of these islands.”
Responding to the announcement, the C of E’s chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, said: “As the provider of 4,700 schools and the largest provider of academies, the Church of England has built up a bank of expertise and a collaborative partnership between dioceses, the Department for Education and Regional Schools Commissioners.
“We will continue to build on this following today’s announcement by the Chancellor and will take an active interest in the fine detail of the proposed legislation due to be published in tomorrow’s White Paper.
“Our primary concern is ensuring children have the kind of education that enables them to flourish and we will work at national, diocesan and local level to ensure our schools are able to continue to offer the excellent education which parents so clearly want for their children.
“The aim of the academy programme is not to create homogenous institutions but to ensure talent and expertise are pooled and resources maximised to secure the best possible futures for our young people.
“We will continue to embrace the opportunities to do that, recognising the particular challenges that many smaller primary schools will face as they seek to develop such partnerships, especially in rural communities.”