Memorials – and war memorials in particular – matter. Virtually nobody’s left who has any first-hand memory of the First World War, and the number of people still alive today who lived through the Second World War is dwindling by the year, but the collective memory of those terrible times remains strong.
And all the more so, oddly enough, as more recent conflicts bring the human cost of war home to current generations. Grim indeed that some – too many – people today are still feeling the pain that their grandparents and their grandparents’ parents too must have felt.
So the campaign to create a permanent memorial to the 55,573 men of Bomber Command who lost their lives in the Second World War struck a chord with everyone from the very beginning. Thanks to a huge number of donations from the public, and particularly large sums pledged by three very generous individuals, the money has pretty well been raised, the necessary permissions obtained, the designs completed and work begun. So far, so good.
The VAT man cometh
But noble intentions, personal generosity and hard work sometimes aren’t enough. Sometimes they come up against an obstacle that is simply too powerful – and too unyielding –- to give way. I’m referring, of course, to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. In particular, that part of it that collects Value Added Tax. The campaigners for the memorial took the view – and you can sort of see their point – that having to pay VAT meant that their supporters were, in effect, being asked to contribute in part to the exchequer, rather than entirely to the good cause they thought their money was going to.
We thought that was wrong too so, after all sorts of pushing and pulling, we managed to find enough from underspends, savings, borrowing from Peter, paying Paul etc. to make a one-off payment of £796,000 which, alongside £204,000 through our Memorials Grant Scheme, effectively covers the tax bill. This is good news for all concerned, the ‘right thing’ has been done and any of you who’d like to chip in (they are close to their target, but still need a bit more) can donate on their website safe in the knowledge that your generosity will not be redirected to the Inland Revenue*.
More Good news
And there’s been more good news from a different quarter. VisitBritain have just announced that last year an incredible 30.6 million people came to the UK from overseas, which is three per cent up on 2010.
Thirty million people! That’s a fantastic number – getting on for 350 Wembley Stadiums’ full. Better yet, while they were here, they spent a fraction under eighteen billion quid which is five per cent up on the year before, and is a record.
This is great stuff but, best of all, the fastest growing markets for visitors seem to be Brazil (up 51 per cent), China (32 per cent) and Russia (20 per cent) and these, of course, are exactly the countries we want to see our message get to. As I’ve said before, we simply don’t know what will happen this year but the bar is now set good and high, and that’s no bad thing.
The British Museum and The Louvre
The challenge will be to match this number in 2012. So this week we also unveiled what our poster and TV ads to help do this are going to look like as they go on show overseas.
The Daily Telegraph reported that one in particular, positioned outside The Louvre in Paris (which charges £8 a ticket to get in) makes the point that our own internationally-renowned British Museum charges its visitors not so much as a centime**.
Jeremy Hunt, with commendable sang-froid described this positioning as ‘rather cheeky’ at the press conference we hosted to show off the images. I’m sure the French will see the funny side, though.
*And with tax in mind, I was delighted to read comments this week – as reported in The Daily Mirror – from some schoolchildren who had entertained the Queen this week on the 60th anniversary of her Accession. The children, from Dersingham Infant and Nursery School, were asked what Her Majesty actually did. Jack Boulderstone, a seven year old who clearly has a bright future as a commentator on the role of the Constitutional Monarchy had two suggestions: ‘Playing with her horses, and tax(ing) everyone’. Brilliant.
**I am indebted, at this point, to Wikipedia for the following: “The euro is divided into 100 cents (sometimes referred to as euro cents, especially when distinguishing them from other currencies, and referred to as such on the common side of all cent coins). In Community legislative acts the plural forms of euro and cent are spelled without the s, notwithstanding normal English usage. Otherwise, normal English plurals are recommended and used, with many local variations such as ‘centime’ in France.” So there we are.
I hesitate to mention all this, of course, for fear that all this airy nonsense will further upset The Independent on Sunday’s Matthew Bell, who had a fit of the vapors over last week’s Blog, and in particular my light-hearted musings on the word ‘oeuvre’. The roundheads at The Independent clearly feel that frivolousness should have no place at Her Majesty’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport. So some, it seems, fell on stony ground.
GREAT campaign photo courtesy VisitBritain