Such was the impact of Covid-19 on York Minster that its very future as a ‘going concern’ was questioned, new documents reveal.
The latest set of accounts for the cathedral have just been published, detailing the ‘devastating’ effect of the pandemic on its finances.
An audit and risk report was presented to the Chapter which runs the Minster in the first weeks after the crisis began. This said: “It is clear that, depending on the amount of time the crisis continues, the ‘going concern’ status of the Minster could be threatened.
“These areas of high and longer term risk are being addressed but will take time for financial operations to be brought back into line.”
Although covering 2019, the accounts were signed off last July, and by that stage revised budgets were in place to counter the immediate threat.
“The temporary closure which took place on 17 March had a devastating impact on our income,” the document says, “with visitor income, gift aid, donations, plate collections, retail turnover, event income, learning group income, tourist group income, investment income and property rental income all being negatively impacted.
“Whilst there is a significant threat to income streams, Chapter are satisfied that the steps that are being put in place to limit exposure to this reduction in income are appropriate and the Cathedral has the ability to continue as a going concern for at least twelve months from the approval of these financial statements.”
Reversal of fortunes
The accounts make clear the dramatic turnaround in the Minster’s fortunes.
In 2019, the Chapter “invested significantly in the Minster School”, with plans for future investment of £2.25m. In June 2020, the 1,400 year old school’s closure was announced due to the ‘catastrophic loss of income’.
By July a restructuring programme was underway across the Minster estate to make up for a £5.2 million shortfall, including consultation on redundancies.
The Chapter is “assuming a recession which is as deep and long as the one that followed the 2008 crash, with domestic visitors likely to make up the majority of our visitor base in 2021 and a return to welcoming overseas visitors from the likes of China and North America in 2022”.
By May, more than 11% had been wiped off the value of the Minster’s investments.
The report also raises concerns about the conservation of the cathedral and others like it.
“There is insufficient state or church wide capital funding to ensure the conservation and restoration of medieval Cathedral fabric,” the document states.
“The Chapter is lobbying various potential funding bodies to ensure that the need and impact of the Cathedral sector is more widely understood.”