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26 December 2017

Stevenson Challenges UK Treasury on Police & Fire Vat U-Turn

Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson has written to the UK Treasury challenging the UK Tory Government on their climbdown on charging Scotland’s emergency services VAT.

Mr Stevenson has repeatedly called for the UK Treasury to introduce VAT exemption for the police and fire services. In his most recent correspondence, the HM Paymaster General Mel Stride MP said the Scottish Government had “understandably” decided to proceed with its restructuring plans due to the estimated financial savings. But the Tory Minister refused to budge from the previously-stated position that Westminster would levy VAT on Scotland’s police and fire services. Four weeks later, a complete U-turn on VAT was announced in the budget.

Now, Mr Stevenson has written to the Paymaster General asking what changed in the intervening four weeks. In his letter to Mel Stride MP, Mr Stevenson says:

“Notwithstanding your stated position at that time that the UK Government would not change its position and would continue to levy VAT on the emergency services, I am pleased that the Chancellor of the Exchequer – to whom I originally wrote – agreed this would be a sensible move in his Budget Statement on 22 November 2017.

“In your letter of 24 October 2017, you also stated that the Scottish Government “understandably” decided to proceed with police and fire restructuring because the advantages outweighed the costs. You will no doubt be aware that restructuring has allowed the numbers of front-line police officers to be maintained whilst merging back-office functions from eight separate police forces produced economies of scale. This is doubtless why the Scottish Conservatives included proposals for a single police force in their 2011 Manifesto.

“The Chancellor has suggested that this sudden change of mind after four years of lobbying by MSPs and Scottish MPs was entirely down to the arguments put forward by your Scottish Conservative MP colleagues. Given your stated position as at 24 October was one of no change, I should be grateful if you would let me know what highly-persuasive arguments were put forward by the Scottish Conservative MPs in the period between 24 October and 22 November which resulted in this change of mind.”

Mr Stevenson added:

“Along with my SNP colleagues both at Westminster and in the Scottish Government, this issue was raised over 100 times with the Westminster Government. Since the summer alone, I’ve done so twice and received negative responses from the Treasury, albeit the Paymaster General did accept the restructuring of police and fire services to protect frontline services was entirely understandable.

“The Tories themselves, so keen recently to portray restructuring in a negative light for political gain, even included proposals for a single Scottish police force in their 2011 manifesto.

“Given the UK Tory Government dismissed all the arguments in favour of VAT exemption put to it between 2013 and 24 October this year, I’m keen to understand from the Treasury what arguments they actually did listen to which were markedly different from the 100 other approaches made to them during this time.

“It’s a simple question and a failure to answer will reveal the Tories have simply been playing politics with Scotland’s emergency services, to the detriment of the public purse."

Stewart Stevenson
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