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 Maree Todd Maree Todd Scottish National Party

I thank my colleague Ben Macpherson for bringing to the chamber a debate on this important issue. I sense that there are a few points on which members across the chamber disagree, so I will focus first on the points on which we can all agree.

First, Police Scotland and the SFRS play a vital role in protecting our communities. It goes without saying that every member in the chamber values our emergency services, and we are grateful for the hard work and dedication that are shown by the men and women who work for them. Secondly, Police Scotland and the SFRS pay around £35 million annually in VAT, which has totalled £140 million since 2013. Thirdly, Police Scotland and the SFRS are, uniquely, the only territorial forces in the UK that are subject to VAT. None of that is disputed.

What is also not disputed is the challenging fiscal environment that we are currently in. We have had several years of Tory austerity, and we have more ahead of us—and we now know that Scotland will be one of the parts of the UK that will suffer most economically as a result of our withdrawal from the European Union. It has been tough, and it is about to get tougher. Scotland has faced cuts to its budget from Westminster totalling £2.9 billion over 10 years. That means that, every year, the Scottish Government is given a more and more difficult job to do in sustaining the high quality of public services that people in Scotland deserve.

The Finance and Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, has been told on a number of occasions that Brexit will result in budgetary pressures worsening significantly in Scotland. Our police and fire and rescue services cannot afford to be needlessly denied £35 million per year, and that funding will be crucial to keeping a high quality of service through the financial difficulties that Brexit will cause in the future.

Every economist whom we have had in front of us at the Finance and Constitution Committee predicts that the economy will shrink because of Brexit—they disagree only on how much it will shrink by. That will undoubtedly put pressure on the public purse.

The Scottish Government has repeatedly called on the UK Government to end the glaring disparity in the way that VAT affects emergency services across the UK. If I am to believe the

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, even the 13 Scottish Tory MPs in the House of Commons have written to the Chancellor to seek an end to what is in effect discriminatory treatment of the Scottish emergency services as far as VAT rules are concerned, yet not one Tory member of this Parliament has signed the motion.

We have heard that the UK Government could choose to deal with this anomaly as it did with Highways England, academy schools and various other bodies. It is happy to change the VAT law when it suits itself, so it seems that it does not suit the UK Government to change the VAT laws for our emergency services. That same Government that hands out tax cuts to the rich is more than happy to continue taking £35 million every year from essential front-line services in Scotland.

Last month we asked the Scottish Tories in this chamber to put their constituents before their party and call a halt to the roll-out of universal credit. So far, they have failed to do so. I ask them today to stand up for our police and fire services. Will they?