The Forum, which campaigns on behalf of 10,000 community buildings in rural England, is urging the Government to introduce tax breaks and support for volunteer trustees in the forthcoming budget.
The Forum has identified that small amounts of carefully directed Government funding will help volunteer trustees provide facilities that are more financially viable, support new social enterprises and help improve the economy and social fabric of rural areas. The Forum is asking for the refund of VAT paid on improvement projects, secondly for finance for the national network of Village Hall Advisers provided by the charitable ACRE Network and thirdly reducing bureaucracy around the granting of rate relief and VAT reductions on energy costs.
The Forum says that a grant aid scheme towards the 20% VAT levied on building works, will enhance the ability of Village Hall Trustees to implement improvement works which will provide jobs in the building industry and help them provide facilities such as Pre-schools, lunch clubs, exercise classes, libraries and activities to improve health and wellbeing, which support more jobs. They say VAT places a burden on local fundraising and grant funders such as local authorities, Landfill operators and charitable trusts as well as volunteers and hope funders will support their campaign.
Forum Vice Chairman, Alan West, who is Chairman of Ringmer Village Hall in East Sussex said:
“Ringmer Village Hall is so well used that we need to extend it to better serve the village. It has taken years to raise the funds for a small extension and over £40,000 will be wasted on VAT that could be spent on better facilities. However, we could not have got this far with our plans without the help and experience from the ACRE Network Village Halls Adviser provided by Action in rural Sussex. Trustees of Village Halls tell the Forum they see the ACRE Network Village Hall services as essential in supporting the good management of their halls, keeping them up to date with legislative changes, networking them with other volunteers, providing inspiration, information and help applying for funding to improve Hall facilities.
Cutbacks in funding for Defra and local authorities have led to a drastic loss of experienced Advisors across the country: Some counties no longer have any, others only a few hours a week to help volunteers running hundreds of facilities worth millions of pounds. The governance requirements and responsibilities volunteers take on are complex. Trustees deserve locally delivered training, answers to problems and the excellent ACRE Network publications and information service being kept up to date.”
Alan West said: “Little notice has been taken of the threat to the wellbeing of the people living in rural communities from the closure of shops, pubs and post offices, while the threat from fracking and damaging development makes headlines. Travel costs are higher in rural areas and with scarce public transport a car is needed by people who cannot afford it. Isolation can become the norm for people, especially in an aging population. Often the last remaining “community” facilities are the Village Hall and Church. Good facilities and active groups help maintain a vibrant, inclusive rural community.