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Brave mountain rescue teams should not have to pay VAT on essential lifesaving kit

March 7, 2014 11:33 AM
By George Lyon MEP in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

"We were navigating in near zero visibility in a white-out.

"As I was navigating I put my foot out and onto nothing, and fell down about 800ft of sheer cliff.

"You figure you have had it."

These are the words of 25 year old Scot Ollie Daniel, who plunged through snow while walking in the Cairngorms in January this year.

In Scotland we are lucky to have some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the world. Walkers and climbers are a common sight in the Highlands and Islands all year round. But we know that these activities are not without risk.

Ollie was rescued after a joint search effort involving Braemar mountain rescue service. He received medical treatment for his injuries and is planning a return to the mountains. But it does not take a massive leap of imagination to see that this could have ended very differently without the courage and professionalism of the local volunteer mountain rescue team.

In 2011 alone almost 600 incidents were responded to by Scottish mountain rescue teams, and these numbers seem to be increasing every year. Mountain and lowland rescue teams are effectively front line emergency services in many parts of Scotland.

These are volunteers who regularly put their lives on the line to help keep people safe. They deserve our full support.

Mountain rescue teams receive financial support from the government at present, and rightly so. But under EU rules, mountain and lowland rescue volunteers still have to pay VAT on essential kit. Axing the VAT for mountain and lowland rescue teams would make a real difference and ensure that the money they are spending is helping save lives, not going to the taxman.

Danny Alexander helped secure extra funds for mountain rescue teams in 2011 to help them pay the VAT bill. This funding was welcome but we need a permanent solution.

Along with my Lib Dem colleague Chris Davies MEP, I am pressing the European Commission to change tax law to allow member states to exempt mountain and lowland rescue services from VAT. This would bring the rules for these key services into line with those for sea rescue teams, who already have a wide-ranging VAT exemption.

The EU Commission is consulting on public interest exemptions to tax rules at present. Chris and I have already met with the EU Tax Commissioner to make the case for a mountain and lowland rescue exemption. The Commissioner was interested in what we had to say but it is important that we keep the pressure on before the EU consultation closes in April.

I have launched a petition and am calling on people to add their names to a joint submission calling on the EU to axe the VAT for mountain and lowland rescue teams. I hope that as many people as possible will back our campaign to get volunteer rescue services a fair deal on tax.

* George Lyon is Liberal Democrat MEP for Scotland and Vice President of the European Budget Committee