Watching Meridian News last night, I was horrified to learn that the RNLI is struggling to maintain services with the £3.9 million VAT bill it is carrying.
Lifeboat crews in the South East had their busiest year on record in 2005, rescuing more than 1,400 people. The busiest station in Kent was Sheerness, carrying out 86 launches and rescuing 87 people, and in West Sussex, Littlehampton had 81 launches.
While the Inland Revenue apparently gives it relief for new buildings, this does not apply to repairs and the everyday cost of running what is a voluntary emergency service.
Is our government so short of money that it’s prepared to tax the lifeboat service, which relieves the same government of having to provide a similar service at ten or a hundred times the price?
This is to me, an appalling state of affairs and MPs, including government Ministers with a local constituency responsibility, should stand-up and declare the practice as morally indefensible?
From the record of the House of Commons Hansard from March 1998, excerpts below, You’ll see that government is still dragging its feet, eight years later.
Mr. Russell: “I join the Minister in congratulating the RNLI. It is a happy coincidence that today is that anniversary. May I suggest to the Minister that it is unfair to put VAT on saving lives at sea? For every person saved in the past year, the VAT cost was £110. That may be a drop in the ocean in terms of the Chancellor's expenditure, but perhaps that money could be better spent. After all, it comes from voluntary donations from the public. The VAT that the Chancellor collects is the equivalent of the cost of 13 new inshore lifeboats. Will the Minister consider introducing a nil rate for organisations engaged in saving life? If she wanted to, she could find a way through the red tape.”
Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle): “Why should British people who want to maximise their support for the RNLI or, for example, church repairs, be thwarted simply because European Commission officials want a neat and tidy common VAT regime and oppose selective zero rating? Which comes first: the wishes of British people doing good work in their communities, or Brussels?”