Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Modest Proposal to Solve the Lambeth Deficit

There have been several stories in the news reporting that the Lambeth Conference is running a sizeable deficit. Here is Damian Thompson on the topic; he parallels this earlier story at the Times Online site:
The problems of homosexual bishops and same-sex blessings are not the only difficulties affecting the Lambeth Conference. Organisers are facing a budget shortfall of up to £2 million. The funding crisis is so severe that even in sky-high temperatures organisers have been unable to pay for air conditioning inside the sweltering conditions of the large blue circus-style tent in which plenary sessions are being held.

An emergency meeting of the Archbishops' Council and the Church Commissioners has been called as soon as the conference ends next month. The Commissioners who have the funds to bail out the conference are not allowed by their charitable trust deeds to fund any except Church of England bishops.

Ironically, the one church that has the funds to bail out the conference is The Episcopal Church of the US. One senior source told The Times: "At the moment we just cannot pay for it."
Two million pounds is quite a shortfall---almost four million U.S. dollars at current rates. Appeals have gone out to the Compass Rose Society, and at least one check for US $100,000 has arrived. At that rate, however, it will be weeks before the deficit can be retired. Meanwhile, the bishops are sweltering in the summer heat, because the cost of air conditioning the gathering spaces is simply beyond the Conference budget.

It turns out that one does not have to look very far for a source of funds that could cover the shortfall (and more, much more!). For in England the Members of Parliament have just gone on vacation, after collecting £5.5 million from the taxpayers to subsidize the dozen or more bars that are operated for the House of Commons! The ineffable Guido Fawkes reports:
The House of Commons Refreshment Department operated on a subsidy of £5.5 million of taxpayers’ money in the 2007/08 financial year, which is equivalent to the total annual tax receipts from 35 pubs. The subsidy is equivalent to £8,500 per MP - that is approximately £50 per diem on top of the £30 per diem they voted to award themselves every working day in cash.

The subsidy, which for some inexplicable reason was not published in the House of Commons’ Annual Accounts, was £693,000 higher than in 2006/07 - a 15% increase. No belt tightening for MPs despite the Chancellor's warnings.
Fifty pounds per day! (How would the visiting bishops like to have that kind of a per diem---just for drinks! You get another thirty pounds a day for food---but who's keeping track? It should be possible, since the rooms are already provided, to eat and drink fairly well in England on $160 per day.) The subsidy comes to a remarkable forty-three percent of the cost of operating those one dozen bars, or, as Guido Fawkes puts it:
[This means] that the taxpayer coughs up £4.30 for every £10 spent refreshing our politicians: even before they claim back their outgoings without receipts through the expenses system. These figures don't include the multi-million pound re-fit of the wine cellar.
Wine cellar??! Oh, yes, of course there would have to be a Parliamentary wine cellar. And as Guido Fawkes explained in an earlier post, it was recently completely remodeled at a cost to the taxpayers of only---

Seven million pounds. That's just under fourteen million dollars. (The Curmudgeon has a modest wine cellar and knows a little bit about what they cost. But his mind reels at what kind of a cellar could be built for $14,000,000.00. That is more than the cost of many a modest five-or six-story building, and it probably exceeds even the cost of this famous cellar, considered one of the world's largest. Note: I am not talking about the cost of the wines to stock it; we are dealing here with just the cost of remodeling it.)

Back to Mr. Fawkes. He includes some more outrageous information:

MPs are members of the best London club with a dozen bars on the parliamentary estate, plenty of dining rooms, brasseries and banqueting suites all operating without a licence and no restrictions on hours - you can even smoke in some.
Apparently in addition to receiving subsidized booze, Members of Parliament regularly turn in their "expense accounts" to be reimbursed. Mr. Fawkes explains in the footnote (indicated by the asterisk) that the salary of an MP used to calculate the statistic trumpeted in red does not include "all the additional expense claims for essential new kitchens, appliances, window cleaning, garden pergolas, plasma TVs . . . ."

It would seem that the Right Honourable Members of Parliament, having been at it for many hundreds of years longer than our own Members of Congress, are much more practiced in the art of feeding at the public trough. Guido Fawkes supplies some detail of where all that booze money went, which he obtained from this press release put out by the ever-watchful ALMR (Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers):
A pint in the Stranger’s Bar costs £2.10, outside parliament in the West End you pay £3.50 to £4.00. An 8-year-old Scotch costs £1.35, while our politicians can enjoy a Pimm’s on the pleasant Thames-side terrace for just £1.65 - which is a third to a half of prices a mile down the road. Do you really think they need to pay politicians more to attract people?
We don't have the details of how much a bottle of, say, 1975 La Mission Haut-Brion might set back a Member in the Parliamentary brasserie. (The linked price is for a double magnum, the equivalent of four single bottles, so it has to be adjusted accordingly.) But given the details in the press release, we may be certain that the $14 million was not spent just to house cases of Horace Rumpole's favorite plonk, Ch√Ęteau Thames Embankment.

And so just what is my "modest proposal"? Well, the idea came like a flash when I saw this sentence buried in a note on page three of that ALMR press release:
The Bishops’ Bar and the Lords’ Bar, operated by the House of Lords, are also on the Parliamentary estate.
The Bishops' Bar? Archbishop Rowan has been holding back on us. No need to run a deficit at Lambeth when the taxpayers already subsidize the bishops' tabs at the Bishops' Bar. Simply put it on your expense account, Archbishop, and let it be run through the taxpayers' books. After all, £2 million is nothing---a mere trifle!---in comparison with the amount spent to refurbish the Parliamentary wine cellar. And who knows what kind of fellowship and good will might ensue if you invited all the indaba groups to be your guests at the Bishops' Bar?

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