‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer must commission a review of the VAT treatment of the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, including but not limited to an analysis of the impact on the financial position of Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service arising from their VAT treatment and an estimate of the change to their financial position were they eligible for a refund of VAT under section 33 of the VAT Act 1994, and must publish the report of the review within six months of the passing of this Act.’—
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
My apologies for causing confusion earlier. If I am ever lucky enough to be on a Finance Bill again, I promise to try hard not to cause so much confusion.
The Government will not be surprised that we have tabled this new clause, because it concerns an ongoing issue between the Scottish and UK Governments. We feel that it still requires attention. To give a little background, before the incorporation of the police and fire authorities, regional authorities were gifted VAT exemption for the fire and rescue and police services. In 2013, when the single Scottish police force and the fire service were brought in, the VAT exemption failed to be carried over to the new services.
The Government argue that the exemption should not apply because national non-departmental public bodies are outside the exemptions under the Value Added Tax Act 1994. Since the issue has arisen, however, HMRC and HM Treasury have decided that tax breaks should be given to the new transport agency Highways England, which is a national non-departmental public body, and that the exemption should be given to the UK-wide Olympic legacy organisation, London Legacy Development Corporation. Those are comparable organisations in terms of territorial extent and they are national bodies, but they have been given the exemption. The Conservative Government can no longer say that the issue is one of fairness, when it is clearly one of unfairness.
The VAT charge, which is being levied unfairly, is costing Scotland’s emergency services tens of millions every year. We would appreciate the opportunity to spend the money on front-line services instead. We have tabled the new clause in the hope that the Government will look at the issue, particularly in the light of the fact that they have permitted exemptions for Highways England and London Legacy. The Government should consider fairness and parity.
This is a familiar debate. The new clause requests that the Treasury reviews the VAT treatment of the Scottish police and fire and rescue services, reporting the cost of VAT and what the change would be if they were eligible for a refund. I am tempted to refer the Committee to the speech I have given on numerous occasions previously, as well as to the history of this. Furthermore, the Scottish Government made the decision to reform their public services knowing full well about the VAT implications.
As was explained last year, any use of Treasury resource to review and produce a report into the financial position of Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service would be unjustified. Neither is eligible to receive VAT refunds under existing legislation, and the Treasury has no intention of amending principles of the VAT refund scheme to change that. I recognise that the SNP has raised the issue before, and I dare say that it will again. However, we cannot support the new clause and, if pressed to a vote, I recommend that the Committee rejects it.