Clause 15 — Assignment of VAT

Part of Bills Presented — Local Area Referendum (Disposal of School Playing Fields) – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 29th June 2015.

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Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 7:45 pm, 29th June 2015

Clause 15 makes changes to ensure that a proportion of the VAT that is attributable to Scotland may be assigned to the Scottish Government’s budget. The Smith commission set the objective that more devolved spending in Scotland should come from tax raised in Scotland. Control over setting VAT rates is not being devolved to Scotland, because EU VAT law does not allow for differential VAT rates within a member state. The changes made by clause 15 will, however, ensure that a proportion of the VAT that is attributable to Scotland may be assigned to the Scottish Government’s budget. Clause 15 sets that proportion at the first 10 percentage points of the standard rate of VAT and the first 2.5 percentage points of the reduced rate of VAT. On the basis of current VAT rates, that would be exactly half, representing, very approximately, £4.5 billion.

Clause 15 will link Scotland’s share of VAT to economic activity, providing incentives for the Scottish Government to promote growth. The Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government have considerable levers to do this, for example on skills and education policy, and it is now for them to set out how they will do that. Assigning VAT to Scotland’s budget will strengthen the financial responsibility of the Scottish Parliament, and strengthen its ability to pursue its own visions, goals and objectives.

Let me say just a word or two about new clause 20, although I am sure Wayne David will be saying more about it shortly. It requests a review of VAT refund schemes in Scotland, with a particular focus on how they affect Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. In 2012, Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service restructured in order to streamline and modernise. As a result, eight local police and fire authorities became one. The restructuring stopped the duplication of support services, potentially saving £130 million, according to the Scottish Government. Like other people and organisations, fire and rescue services and the police pay VAT on the taxable goods and services they purchase, but because they are largely not engaged in business activities they cannot recover this VAT through the VAT system in the same way as businesses do. However, there are, in certain clearly defined circumstances, existing schemes that refund some or all VAT.

Section 33 of the Value Added Tax Act 1994 was introduced to ensure that VAT is not a cost borne by local taxation. There are two long-established criteria for inclusion in this scheme. First, that a body must undertake a local government function—we accept that the successor bodies of the former fire and rescue service authorities do this. Secondly, the body must have the power to draw funding directly from local taxation. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is funded by the Scottish Government rather than through any legal call on local taxes, and so does not fit under that criteria. In 2011, the Scottish Government were explicitly advised of this consequence of changing from regional police and fire services to a single authority. The expected benefits in the Scottish Government’s business case far outweigh the loss of any VAT refunds, and so the Scottish Government understandably continued restructuring with that in mind. The restructuring was the decision of the Scottish Government, made with the full knowledge of the VAT consequences of their decisions. This is a historical request and is not a matter that the draft clause regarding VAT assignment should address. Having set out the background, in anticipation of the arguments we may hear from the hon. Gentleman, I urge him not to press his new clause to a Division.