Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of imposing a “financial burden” on Scotland’s buckling police funding by only calling for a £23 million annual VAT bill to be scrapped three years after ministers were first told about it.
A letter from former pensions minister David Gauke to the Unison trade union, obtained by The Courier, confirmed in March 2012 that neither Police Scotland nor the single Scottish Fire and Rescue Service would be eligible for a rebate.
It says the Scottish Government knew its decision to reform the emergency services meant both of the new agencies would lose out.
George McIrvine, branch secretary for Unison Police Staff Scotland, said: “What is particularly galling is the fact this Scottish Government and the then justice secretary Kenny MacAskill knew all along that due to a merger to a single force, and the subsequent removal from local authority power to a non-departmental public body, exemption of VAT would be removed.
“Because of their blind ignorance to Unison’s pleas at the time in March 2012, when we took the initiative to investigate the VAT issue, the Scottish Government has effectively imposed a further year-on-year financial burden on an already strained policing budget.
“It is yet another crisis in what is turning into a shambles for Scottish policing, which affects the public and the hard-working and loyal staff and officers employed within the service,” Mr McIrvine said.
Police Scotland Chief Constable Sir Stephen House has said the national force faces “extreme measures” to plug an £11m shortfall this year.
Speaking at the Scottish Police Federation’s annual conference in South Ayrshire earlier this week, the First Minister vowed to pursue the UK Government and exert pressure on it to scrap the force’s annual bill.
The Courier asked the Scottish Government why the issue of the VAT was raised five weeks before the general election when confirmation of the funding shortfall had come more than three years ago.
A spokesman for Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “The UK Government has so far rejected our requests to reverse their decision.
“The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is similarly disadvantaged and is liable for an annual cost of around £10m.
“We will continue to press the Westminster Government to overturn these VAT charges that are penalising our police and fire services.”