Leaders: Police tax bill must be withdrawn

The establishment of Police Scotland was driven primarily by the need to save money. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The establishment of Police Scotland was driven primarily by the need to save money. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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THE creation of a single Scottish police force was sold to the public as the radical – and essential – shake-up of a service that had grown inefficient.

There was much truth in that. Scotland’s policing was bureaucracy-heavy and chief constables across the country often had wildly divergent sets of priorities.

But while there were many good operational reasons for the establishment of Police Scotland, the project was driven primarily by the need to save money. The country’s existing forces faced cuts across the board and it made sense, then, to mitigate their impact by streamlining operations.

Nobody could deny that the process has had its difficult moments. There was understandable public concern about the routine deployment on patrol of armed officers, for example, and there has been a sense that the new force is not as accountable as might reasonably be expected.

These matters aside, Police Scotland has had some success. Falling crime rates and the maintenance of political guarantees on officer numbers have been achieved in the face of very difficult financial circumstances.

The single national police force has its problems, but we can point to its creation as an example of politicians answering the need to find savings without hurting services.

An unforeseen consequence of the establishment of the single force, however, means that budgets are now under even more pressure. Police Scotland is the only force in the United Kingdom that is required to pay VAT.

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This, the Treasury explains, is because it is a central government organisation. Forces across England – and even the Police Service of Northern Ireland – are treated as regional bodies and are, thus, exempt from the tax.

Yesterday, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, Sir Stephen House, said a £23 million tax bill could pay for almost 700 extra officers. He went on to describe the charge as bewildering.

Newly appointed justice secretary Michael Matheson has promised to pursue this matter with the Treasury. He is absolutely right to do so.

Scotland is a proud nation. Nobody can deny that. But we are a proud nation within the family of nations of the United Kingdom. Our status should not be exploited in order for tax collectors to impose charges on Police Scotland that are not imposed on other forces and were not applied when Scotland had eight forces instead of one.

Policing in Scotland has been under huge pressure in recent years. The matter of officer numbers has been a key issue in successive Holyrood elections, placing yet more strain on a service facing cuts.

The Treasury must not add to the force’s difficulties with this unreasonable tax demand.

Everyone across the UK has the right to expect the same high standard of service from the police. By the same token, all forces should have equal status in the eyes of the government.

Credit where credit’s due

AS CHRISTMAS fast approaches, we are told that the worst days of recession are over and that recovery continues, apace.

It is certainly indisputable that joblessness is down and that the property market shows growth. Wage rates are beginning to grow ahead of rises in inflation.

But still, too many of these jobs are low paid and too few people are feeling an improvement in their standard of living.

Several years of pay freezes mean that many feel – and, in fact, are – worse off than they were before the financial crisis.

However, the easy credit that caused so much damage to the global financial system remains alluring for many of us.

A study shows that British people rely on credit cards to a degree that might shock the rest of the world. A full 70 per cent of all credit cards in Europe are held by UK residents.

The City regulator yesterday announced an investigation into whether credit cards are being sold in a way which exploits a willingness in some to take on too much debt.

The Financial Conduct Authority’s action is to be welcomed, but any inquiry will take time. Of course, credit cards can be a great convenience but, for some, they are an ever-shortening lifeline, used to cover basics, and never paid off.

The debate over access to credit has focused in recent years on pay-day lenders, whose punitive interest rates compare unfavourably with those of back-street loan sharks. But many Scots are just as firmly tied to more “respectable” lenders.

We look forward to studying the FCA’s findings in the new year, after yet another Christmas on credit.

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