Chancellor urged to take action as rising fuel duty hits emergency service budgets

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By a Newsnet reporter

SNP MSP John Finnie has urged Chancellor George Osborne not to go ahead with his planned hike in fuel duty after figures revealed the extent of the rising cost burden on police forces and fire brigades across Scotland.

The cost of fuel for fire brigades more than doubled between 2002 and 2009, the last year for which figures are available, while police forces are expected to spend an estimated £7,885,000 this year on fuel in comparison with £4,810,000 in 2002-03

The figures also show the amount of duty paid by fire brigades to the Treasury in 2009 was over £953,000 compared to over £563,720 in 2002 – an increase of 69%.

Scotland’s police forces are estimated to pay over £3.4million to the UK Exchequer this financial year in comparison to £2.2million paid in 2003 – an increase of 53%.

UK fuel duty rates are amongst the highest in Europe.  However the fuel tax bills faced by the police and fire services are in stark contrast to the treatment afforded to private bus companies.  

Thanks to a Westminster provision, privatised bus companies operating local bus services receive a rebate of 41 pence per litre on fuel duty via the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG), but this same rebate is not extended to public services like the police or fire brigade.  Management of the BSOG in Scotland was devolved to the Scottish Parliament in 2010. 

Mr Finnie, SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands and a former police officer, said:

“Record fuel prices are damaging to our emergency services – as these new figures clearly show.  That is why the Chancellor must rethink his position on implementing his hike in fuel duty, which will only add to the pressures these emergency services are under.

“It is a scandal that fire brigades are spending more than double the amount of money of fuel in the space of only seven years.”

Although it must still pay fuel duty, the Lifeboat Service has been exempt from VAT on fuel since 1977, however a similar exemption has not been afforded to the Air Ambulance Service or other emergency services.  Only Westminster has the power to alter the eligibility conditions for fuel duty and VAT.

Calling on some of the record revenues from the North Sea to be used to help the situation, Mr Finnie added:

“The figures show the Treasury has benefitted from a huge increase in the amount of duty paid – with the cash almost doubling between 2003 and 2009.

“This surge in funds to the UK Exchequer should be used to help offset the impact of high fuel prices on our essential emergency services.

“While emergency services budgets are tight, we must do everything in our power to help support them – not pile on even more pressure with higher costs.

“With record North Sea oil and gas revenues flowing to the Treasury, Scotland needs to see some of that money being used to bring fuel prices down.

“For too long now emergency services, households and businesses have called for action to tackle rising fuel costs.  If the UK Government refuses to do this then the powers must be passed to the Scottish Parliament so that it can.”