A significant amount of controversy surrounded the run-up to the state and pastoral visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Scotland and England on 16-19 September 2010, although, in retrospect, the visit was deemed by many to have been a success. Police estimates suggest that 500,000 people saw the pontiff during these four days, either at the events or along the popemobile routes.
One of the factors exercising voters and secularist organizations at the time was the likely cost of the visit, especially to the public purse. A large majority of the adult population in ComRes and Populus polls were opposed to taxpayer funding of the Pope’s tour, even though it was partly categorized as an official state visit. See our reports on these surveys at http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=524 and http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=562
The arguments about the cost of the visit were compounded by rumour and speculation, by the apparent lack of firm estimates, and by less than full transparency on the part of the Government and the Roman Catholic Church.
Only now, almost six months after the Pope flew back to Rome, are we beginning to get some financial clarity, greatly assisted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)’s recent release of some key documents.
These comprise the ‘contractual’ agreement between FCO, acting as budget holder for the visit, and the Church and a final statement of FCO non-policing expenditure on the visit (significantly, the draft budget was not divulged).
These papers can be viewed, under the reference DEP2011-0309.ZIP, in the deposited papers database section of the House of Commons Library website at:
The costs of the visit, as presented by FCO, essentially divide into three main components: a) costs incurred by FCO on behalf of Government; b) costs initially incurred by FCO but rechargeable to the Church, and to be refunded by the Church before 1 March 2011; and c) costs incurred directly by the Church.
Category a) costs are now known to have come to £6,981,000, split between seven Government Departments (including the Department for International Development, a fact which sparked some furore when it belatedly came to light on 3 February). This total was actually lower than anticipated, so each Department will get back £600,000 of the £1,850,000 which it had to pre-pay FCO.
The most expensive single Government item was £3,031,000 for the provision of media centre facilities at all the venues (some 3,000 media representatives were accredited). Other big-ticket (six-figure) items were:
- £1,674,000 towards the beatification mass for John Henry Newman at Cofton Park, Birmingham and the follow-on meeting at Oscott College (19 September)
- £484,000 for the event at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham (17 September)
- £328,000 for the prayer vigil in Hyde Park, London (18 September)
- £312,000 for live news feeds
- £284,000 for the events in Westminster Hall and Westminster Abbey (17 September)
- £264,000 for the mass at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow (16 September)
- £147,000 for public liability insurance
- £103,000 for pre-visit venue location and research costs
Category b) costs came to £6,347,000, of which £4,431,000 was incurred in connection with the beatification mass at Cofton Park and £1,180,000 for the Hyde Park vigil. The Church also paid £385,000 towards the St Mary’s event and picked up the webstreaming costs of £115,000, besides contributing to five other budget-lines.
Category c) costs were estimated by FCO at £3,800,000, and this figure has not been contradicted by the Church.
Category b) and c) costs combined therefore amount to about £10,100,000, well above the Church’s original estimate of its own expenditure of £7,000,000, but reasonably close to its final pre-visit forecast of between £9,000,000 and £10,000,000.
A statement recently issued by Papal Visit Ltd., the company set up by the Roman Catholic bishops’ conferences of England and Wales and Scotland, said that it had already raised £7,500,000 towards this £10,100,000.
The outstanding £2,600,000 will be taken up and underwritten by the dioceses, which will need to find the money by October 2012.
Unfortunately, some costs were not recorded centrally by FCO and are thus omitted from the foregoing analysis. According to the written statement by Henry Bellingham, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, to the House of Commons on 16 February, these exclusions appear to be:
- policing costs
- security services costs
- local authorities costs
- Whitehall Government Department staffing costs
- Scottish Government costs
These exclusions prompted the National Secular Society (NSS), which has been an implacable critic of the visit throughout, to issue a press release on 25 February, accusing FCO of publishing figures which ‘just don’t add up’, and providing some of the missing data itself. This statement can be read at:
Policing and local authority costs were said by FCO to have been ‘met within existing budgets’, but some more exact figures have emerged, for example £293,000 actually spent by Edinburgh City Council and £82,000 by Birmingham City Council.
Expenditure on policing has been especially disputed. Shortly before the papal visit, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, who was co-ordinating policing arrangements, put forward an estimate of between £1,000,000 and £1,500,000 for police costs. This was dismissed by NSS at the time as ‘total nonsense’.
Certainly, the initial (May 2010) estimate for the Metropolitan Police, for the two days which the Pope spent in London, was £1,800,000, including opportunity costs. Actual costs for three police forces are known: Lothian and Borders Police £543,000, Strathclyde Police £649,000, and West Midlands Police £280,000.
The cost of the papal visit to the security services is never likely to be revealed.
The Scottish Government has disclosed that it spent £800,000 on the visit.
Factoring in everything, and making guestimates for the continuingly unknown elements, the 2010 papal visit must have cost a minimum of £25,000,000, of which the state paid three-fifths (nationally and locally) and the Church two-fifths.
This is obviously a substantial sum, albeit only one-quarter of the ‘true cost’ of £100,000,000 which NSS was claiming in July 2010. Nor is it known how this compares with the cost of other (more secular) state visits.
BRIN would naturally be pleased to hear from any of its readers who have concrete and verifiable information which could refine this picture of the cost of the papal visit.