VAT on Air Ambulance Fuel Payments
United Kingdom Borders
Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow, Labour)
I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. She has been working with me to highlight the work of the London air ambulance service. I will talk about the demands in the run-up to, and during, the Olympics in a moment.
The London air ambulance service has a doctor-led team that provides advanced medical procedures and leadership in situations in which a patient might otherwise die before reaching hospital. As London’s only helicopter medical emergency service, the team works incredibly hard to provide 24/7 emergency care services to the 10 million people who live and work in the capital.
Despite the incredible work of the London service, its funding is limited. Many people do not realise that it is a charity, as are many of the other air ambulance services around the country. At a time when it should be expanding its operational capacity, a lack of funding means that it is unable to do so. That will have an impact across London, and, as Mary Macleod has mentioned, that is deeply worrying in a year in which millions of visitors will come to the city for the Olympics.
Compared with other cities in England and Wales and around the world, London’s air ambulance service lacks resources. It has just one helicopter and one team to serve 10 million people, compared with an average of one helicopter per 1.5 million people across the rest of the UK. Internationally, Paris has 12 teams and at least three helicopters, and Sydney has six helicopters.
London’s air ambulance service is currently funded through private donations and an NHS contribution, but much more work must be done to raise funds if it is to provide the level of service required to meet London’s growing needs. In these tough economic times, it is even more challenging for the service to achieve its funding objectives. As a charity, it relies heavily on donations from the corporate sector, and in 2011 donations and sponsorship made up 45% of the service’s overall income. The donations from organisations, charities and companies are welcome, and donors include organisations such as Virgin, Coutts and the London stock exchange. At a time of economic uncertainty, however, that funding is not stable, and it does not meet the funding needs of the service.
Contributions from the private and corporate sectors play a large part, but it is vital that the Government should meet their obligations to support the charity. The London service has received a long-standing donation of £1.2 million from the NHS, which represented 40% of its overall income in 2011, but I believe that the Government must do more. The impact of the Government’s VAT increase to 20% is being felt by services such as the London air ambulance, which receive no support to cover the cost of VAT on aviation fuel payments. We are calling on the Government temporarily to reduce the rate of VAT from 20% to 17.5%, which would lessen the VAT bill for charities, including air ambulance services.
The London air ambulance service needs an estimated £3.9 million if it is to enhance and expand the service that it provides in the coming years. The necessity for the service to do that will only increase, and it is important that we take action now to ensure that the service can cope with future demand. The extra funding would enable the service to acquire and maintain a new helicopter in order to achieve 100% “up time”, so that if one helicopter required maintenance, another would still be operational. It would also allow the service to maintain medical and rescue equipment, fund medical innovation and invest in staff training, research and the charity’s infrastructure. That type of expansion would greatly enhance the service, benefiting Londoners and ensuring a sustainable model for the future.
The London air ambulance is a service that many of us take for granted. It is a service that many of us do not think of as a charity, and one that we would expect to assist us in an emergency. This is a call to the Government to reduce VAT to 17.5% and give charities such as London’s air ambulance service the support that they need. It is also a call to the private sector and the business community, in London and elsewhere, to invest in the air ambulance services and support their incredible work of saving people’s lives.