VAT Charges (Police Scotland and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 31st October 2017.

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Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

I join others in congratulating Ben Macpherson on securing the debate. The issue is important, as is the language that surrounds it. It may surprise some people—although not many who know me—that I did not necessarily support a single service. However, as the former convener of the Justice Committee said, we were driven to create a single service by cuts from Westminster. Where I would disagree with Christine Grahame is that there were not just eight versions of each post—there were nine versions and sometimes 10.

We now have a strategic model that deals with top-level issues such as cross-border crime, organised crime and trafficking. There is also a significant local model, although it is not necessarily as robust as I would like it to be. As another member mentioned, some officers are directly funded by local government, unless that has changed since the last time that we looked at the issue. However, there is local input and, most important, there is local scrutiny.

I am very keen to see the application of the highest level of devolved resource management. I was proud to serve in Lothian and Borders Police initially, and then in Northern Constabulary, which had the most advanced system of devolved resource management, to the extent that the two police officers from Barra were responsible for their own overtime bill. Who better to judge when they needed to work extra hours? That is proper local policing and there is nothing in the strategic model that would stop that. Sadly—and I mean sadly—it became a constitutional issue. I am glad that it seems to be less of a constitutional issue now.

My MP for a while was Mr Danny Alexander, who was Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Thanks to all the good people sitting in the chamber—but not me and my Green colleagues—as a senior member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank he was recently granted privileges and criminal immunity, but there we go. He was very busy on VAT, and I do not mean just in relation to academy schools. He grabbed a crucial issue in the local area, and chased and secured VAT exemption for ski lift passes.

As has been alluded to, this Parliament has oversight of community safety, which is the responsibility of our police and fire and rescue services. We could go on for ever talking about examples, although I suggest that we do not—the Presiding Officer would not let us anyway. However, I will just say that the National Crime Agency, which was set up when Theresa May was Home Secretary, does not have local funding, is a nationwide body and, as I understand it, is exempt from VAT.

There are recruitment challenges in our rural communities for the police and fire and rescue services. In the Justice Committee today, we heard a fascinating statistic: 20 per cent of police time is taken up dealing with domestic abuse issues. We all have wider obligations. There are rules, laws, democratic accountability and public opinion, but there is also political will. If there is a will to resolve this issue, I am sure that we can resolve it.

I ask Mr Fraser and Mr Kerr to forget where the motion came from. I ask them to forget the Scottish National Party for once—I ask them not to be obsessed with it—and think about their obligations in relation to the 20 per cent more that could be done, such as improving community safety and providing additional resources for our police and fire and rescue services. I ask them to fully support the motion. First and foremost, let us get it right henceforth, and we can maybe talk about the back money after that.