Tuesday, 4 January 2011
Keep Your Promise Mr Alexander
In this area most people know someone who belongs to the local voluntary Mountain Rescue service, mainly because the Grampians loom in the background. There's no lack of support for these people either, because they risk their lives very regularly to save the lives of the unfortunate, the ill-prepared and the downright stupid who choose to go out on the mountain at any time of year. They also respond to many other emergencies off the hill.
There are 12 rescue teams in Scotland who provide a 24 hour service and they are still almost entirely funded by public donations although the Scottish Government provides an annual £200,000 lump sum which is divided among the teams. They're always strapped for cash, mainly because their equipment is so expensive and requires regular updating. Fuel costs take a large chunk of their finances too. But they seldom complain and do the best they can. In fact the Tayside Mountain Rescue is effectively homeless and operates from temporary accommodation on a rural farm after failing to secure affordable premises.
Prior to last year's general election the LibDems promised the Mountain Rescue service would be given VAT exemption status. They currently receive a VAT exemption on electrical items but everything else they have to buy is charged at full rate. Rescue teams across Scotland presently face a combined VAT bill of between £150,000- £200,000 a year on other purchases and this figure is set to rise this week with the increase to the 20% rate.
The Mountain Rescue insist that their service should be free. Not all agree, but surely such a service should have a VAT exemption certificate.
The SNP think so. Falkirk West SNP MSP Michael Matheson, a member of Ochils Mountain Rescue, has written to Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, calling for the abolition of VAT on mountain rescue services. Prior to reaching the dizzy heights of the cabinet, Mr Alexander was the PR man (head of communications) for the Cairngorms National Park Authority so he should understand a thing or two about the operation of this value service. Will he keep the LibDems promise to withdraw VAT contributions? I'm not rushing to the bookies.