Kezia Dugdale: Tories must axe police and fire services VAT

TOMORROW, Tory Chancellor Philip Hammond has a chance to take real action to improve the lives of people in Edinburgh.

Tuesday, 7th March 2017, 9:00 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:03 am
Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond unveils his Budget tomorrow. Picture: AFP

For years now, the Tory government has been pursuing a failing ­austerity agenda. David Cameron, and now Theresa May, are content to let hard-working families pay the price for their ­inability to grow the economy.

Across Edinburgh and beyond, families are struggling to make ends meet as the cost of living goes up but wages go down.

Cuts to employment support allowance will hurt our city’s most vulnerable – and the Tories’ hard Brexit will only make this situation worse.

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Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale. Picture: John Devlin

Not only does it risk Edinburgh’s reputation as an international city, but being out of the EU single ­market will harm our economy and future prospects. There is another way – and I have written to Mr Hammond urging him to change course. I want to see action to end the anomaly by which the police and fire services in Scotland are required to pay VAT, at a cost of around £35 million a year.

This is the SNP’s mess, of course – they knew when they took control away from local communities that they would also be liable for VAT.

But that does not mean it shouldn’t be fixed. With Police Scotland struggling under SNP mismanagement, I want to see as much money as ­possible available to the force.

Being exempt from VAT will not solve all of Police Scotland’s problems but it will help support the hard-working men and women of the force, who get up every day to keep the people of Edinburgh and Scotland safe.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale. Picture: John Devlin

But with austerity having failed and Brexit a profound threat to our economy, a change of course is not just necessary – it is essential. That’s why I want to see investment in our economy.

Yesterday, I visited Standard Life’s office in Edinburgh.

Financial services are one of the powerhouses of the Edinburgh economy and, if this merger with Aberdeen Asset Management sees the city punch even further above its weight, then that would be a great thing.

But reports of potential job losses are obviously concerning – I raised this with Standard Life bosses and I will closely monitor the situation.

I was also visiting Standard Life to mark the beginning of Apprenticeship Week. Everybody deserves the chance of a fair go in life and apprenticeships can play a huge part in that.

But it is disappointing that the SNP seems to spending less on apprenticeships than elsewhere in the UK.

Apprenticeships could make a huge difference to young people across Edinburgh and we need movement from the SNP on this.

Government action both in the Scottish Parliament and Westminster can make a huge difference to the lives of people in Edinburgh.

Holyrood should not just be a ­conveyor belt for Tory austerity. We can choose a different way.

Both Mr Hammond and Nicola Sturgeon need to take notice, change course and do something for the ­people of Edinburgh and Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale is a Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Lothian region and leader of the Scottish Labour Party