Friday 15th January 2021
The Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland
William Ramsay McGhee, OStJ, D.L., Grand Master Mason
At the meeting of the Heads of Orders on Wednesday, it was unanimously agreed that meetings of all Orders in Scotland will remain suspended for the foreseeable future. The decision was based on a number of factors – the current rise in cases and in deaths, the speed by which vaccine will be available and administered to all and the fact that we received notice that all public events have been cancelled indefinitely – for example, I received notification yesterday through the Lieutenancy that the Garden Parties in July have been cancelled. I know, accept and appreciate that this will be disappointing news to many, but the health and safety of our membership is paramount. With regard to our Lodges abroad, my advice is to remain closed unless you are 100% sure of the safety of the Brethren and are working in strict compliance with the law of your country.
As a result of Wednesday’s meeting, I will be calling an early meeting of the strategy group and will be tasking them, as a matter of urgency, to bring forward their work to ensure that we can do all that we possibly can to keep interest and enthusiasm as high as we can possibly can. We all need to remain positive and upbeat. I will also be meeting at an early date with all Provincial and District Grand Masters to emphasise to them the role that I expect them to play in this ongoing pandemic.
Brethren, please be assured that I will do all in my power to keep morale, enthusiasm and passion for our Craft as my number one priority. I don’t enjoy the situation any more than anyone else – however, I am confident that we will come out of the pandemic strong and vibrant – it may just take a bit longer than I was anticipating. In the meantime, please keep the Zoom meetings going – I’ll move to try and expand the meetings so that we can do more than we are maybe doing at the present time. Keep in touch with the more vulnerable Brethren, widows and families. Make sure they are safe. I’ll also explore the possibility of Lodges applying to “Connecting Scotland” for i-pads for those members who have no way of connecting to the internet. I would also make an appeal on two counts – if anyone has a laptop or i-pad that they no longer use then I’m sure we all know someone who could use it and secondly, if we can get second hand devices, it would be good if we could get some expertise in the Provinces and Districts to ensure that they are stripped of all data and the recipients shown how to use them – I’ll expand on this with the PGM’s and DGM’s.
My sincere thanks to you all for your patience and perseverance. The Heads of Orders are going to meet again in June to review the situation.
The group can now boast a membership of 4346 Brethren from both Scottish Constitution Lodges and Lodges from other Constitutions recognised by the Grand Lodge of Scotland. This week saw the total examples of charitable giving recorded within the group rise to 611, submitted by 246 of its members. With the District Grand Lodge of Zambia being added this week, these updated contributions can now be attributed as to being made on behalf of 297 Lodges, from within 31 Provincial Grand Lodges, 21 District Grand Lodges, Superintendencies and Lodges under the direct supervision of Grand Lodge. An increase in the quantifiable monetary value of contributions to £534,515 was recorded during the week. There have been 88,325 individual comments, likes, and other reactions to the group since its inception.
SCFS Overseas Report
Outstanding posts were received this week.
There is Government assistance available to Masonic Lodges; what a Lodge may claim and what it is entitled to depends on the circumstances of the Lodge. Unfortunately, not all Lodges will qualify for financial assistance. Lodges with their own property and with a social club/bar should qualify for financial assistance. For ease of reference, I shall refer to financial assistance using the generic term – grants. Grant are funded by the UK government. Funds are allocated to the Scottish Government (ScotGov) who in turn cascade to Local Authorities to administer the grant. The exception to this rule is Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) which is administered directly by HMRC. This means grants are claimed online either from your Local Authority Council or in the case of CJRS you claim through HMRC. So far, each grant has had strict time limits to make an application; in other words, there are deadlines to meet! The Chancellor announced the first grant at the start of lockdown in March 2020. This was for £10000 and called Coronavirus Business Support Fund. It was a one-off grant the amount determined by rateable value e.g., £10000 if rateable value of £18000 or less or for those where rateable value £18001 or more - £25,000. When launched this grant was described as available to claim no later than 31 March 2021 but sadly I have not been able to find contemporary reference to it on either the ScotGov or Local Authority site so I cannot confirm if it is still available. Presently ScotGov business support is set out in their Coronavirus Strategic Framework Business Fund, just google “Strategic Framework Business Fund” to read in full. If your business is required to close by law or to significantly change its operations due to COVID-19 restrictions from 2 November 2020, you may be eligible to apply for grant funding. This support follows on from the Coronavirus Restrictions Fund which covered the period 9 October until 1 November. Applications for that funding closed on 3 November 2020. If your business is required to close by law you might be eligible to claim on the Business Temporary Closure Fund, or, if by law you’ve had to modify your operation by law you might be eligible to claim on the Business Restrictions Fund. My experience is there is no consistency which claim will be successful it depends on each lodge’s circumstances. If your business is required to close by law you could be entitled to either a temporary closure grant, every four weeks, of £2,000 if your business premises have a rateable value of up to and including £51,000 or £3,000 if your business premises have a rateable value of £51,001 or above. If your business is required to modify its operation you might be entitled to a business restriction grant, every four weeks, of one of the following £1, 400 if your business premises have a rateable value of up to and including £51,000 or £2,100 if your business premises have a rateable value of £51,001 or above.
If entitled to either grant you only need claim once, then so long as entitlement continues payment it is paid every 4 weeks. For those lodges with employees currently furloughed and previously paid under paye rules there is immediate help available under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Lodges can claim up to 80% of an employees’ wages (based on their wages prior to March 2020). Full details as to how to claim are on the HMRC website, it’s a very simple process and easy to follow. Claims are made monthly.
There was also a Furlough Support Grant to further help employers, but this closed Sunday 13 December 2020. This was a one-off payment of £1650. The Chancellor announced another one-off grant for businesses on 4 January 2021. ScotGov released its claim criteria on 11 January. If you already receive a grant under the Business Temporary Closure Fund this top up will be paid with the next instalment. Unfortunately, the rules are not clear whether recipients of the Business Temporary Restriction Fund will also receive this grant. Before finishing a common question asked is “are these grants taxable?”. There is no one size fits all answer; it is wholly dependent on the facts. I suggest however that as most lodges have no Corporation Tax liability on their “profits” because of what’s known as mutual trading and any non-mutual activity is usually small and incidental to the primary function of being a masonic lodge it follows therefore that for the majority of lodges are grants will be non taxable. Finally – it is important to remind everyone that each lodge is different, and this means entitlement to grant will be different for each lodge. With that in mind-
Alan M Carmichael PM