Church & Chancellor lobby chess : who won?

While researching our recent revelations about CoE Cathedral grants it struck me the church lobbying process was very similar to chess, just with higher stakes. Using our FoI material (including letters not previously shown) I’ve noted down the interesting ebb and flow of moves.

The Bishops of London starts in Jan 2014. He asks for £10m a year, on the surface for ‘up to five years’, however that’s just from the government. After that he’d like the Repair Grants for Listed Places of Worship Scheme run by HLF to be ‘augmented’ so the payments can carry on. Now, this scheme is run by the ‘independent’ HLF so he helps explains what the chancellor should do, make them do it — ‘under the direction from government’.

How will HM Treasury respond? They go into a huddle to work out their move. In the meantime the church has Maria Miller and Ed Vaizey wheeled in for further support.

They know the church wants a permanent £10m annually for cathedrals, they can also see they want it directly from the government NOW then will lobby HLF to make it permanent in 2017. How to respond …..? Ah — give in but only for two years, bring in other parties to share the responsibility and tie to WW1 celebrations to provide an end term date.

The CoE follows up; a helpful list of required repairs (who worked these out?) and the corresponding MP for each cathedral, just to let HMT know we know who’ll back us.

Plus a helpful reminder that the country is still (nominally) christian and they’ll support us too.

So the CoE asked for five years and got two. Better than nothing, however come 2016 and time for another move, this time through Caroline Spelman the Second Church Estates Commissioner. “Dear George, …”

“Your ever ….” So back to an ask of £10m per year, indefinitely with a detailed briefing document in support.

Does the Chancellor need a springboard?

and nice to know the cathedrals “.. could make excellent use of £10m a year on-going.”, I’m sure everyone could!

In a co-ordinated move the next day another “Dear George… “ email.

Chancellor — your move. Back to a huddle.

.. we have concerns that the sector is becoming increasingly reliant on direct government funding …

Advice from HMT and a warning bell; again don’t just say no but time limit to 2 years and announce a church sustainability review.

Also time that review report to coincide CoE to back off a bit. Also get the DCMS to chip in this time to make sure they’ve got skin in the game.

Interesting to see HMT clearly note that Caroline Spelman MP made the request, there was no appetite in HMT to make this grant extension without her request. The sustainability report was duly commissioned and published and that was the last move.

What will happen next? Interesting to see. I’d put it down as a win for HMT at present, but at a cost of £40m which isn’t cheap. The Listed Places of Worship Scheme has continued but cathedrals are still excluded. Also interestingly the HLF in September 2017 shut down it’s separate Grants for Places of Worship scheme and religious buildings now have to compete in the open grant scheme, as reported by the Roman catholic Bishops to their dismay:

The Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) Grants for Places of Worship scheme (GPOW) is to be closed in September 2017. This will mean that churches will have to compete for funding against all other heritage bodies and apply to the HLF under their general grant schemes. In effect, parishes will be in competition for funds with major heritage attractions and museums in order to secure funds for repairs — a truly David and Goliath scenario.

So no step forward to getting ring fenced cathedral funds from the HLF and in fact a reverse in that NO religious building will now get ring fenced grant funding. Definitely HMT with the upper hand.

As an aside; how did Mrs Spelman explain in the Commons the Chancellor’s reasoning behind the extra £20m grant funding in 2016 she lobbied so hard for? On the 17th March 2016 she answered:

Hmmm, too modest.

Father, husband, work in technology, dabble in secularism.