The Mountain Rescue (MR) for England and Wales is donation funded and staffed by volunteers. They receive no remuneration for their efforts, yet they regularly assist the police, ambulance crews and fire service in technical rescues, not all of which are mountain related.
In effect they save the government thousands of pounds by offering a free workforce to supplement the main emergency services.
They are rewarded for these efforts with a large tax bill.
"We estimate that MR teams in England & Wales spend approximately £200,000 per year on VAT, fuel tax and Vehicle Excise Duty, and this all comes from donations made by the public."
commented Andy Simpson, the Press Officer for the Mountain Rescue. He spoke at length to UKClimbing.com regarding the taxes paid by the mountain rescue teams.
Andy Simpson - MR
The government rejected the petition, stating:
"Our VAT agreements with our European partners, signed by successive governments, mean that it is not now possible to extend the scope of the zero rates available to charities beyond those permitted by EU VAT legislation."
However the Mountain Rescue believed theirs wasn't an out of the ordinary request:
"We believe many other deserving organisations such as Red Nose Day benefit from other tax concessions, given on an ad-hoc basis and without reference to the EU." said Andy Simpson.
The petition wasn't started officially by the mountain rescue, but by an unknown MR team member. It is the latest in several stages of protest against the huge amount of money taken from the MR by the British government.
explained Andy Simpson as he recounted the difficulties faced by the rescue organisation. The MR have subsequently taken their argument direct to the EU Commission after they were told, rather unconvincingly, that the UK government's hands were tied.
Andy Simpson - MR
The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) are not officially involved but the MR believe them to be generally supportive of the idea of tax emption for mountain rescue. UKClimbing have so far been unable to get an official response from the BMC on this matter.
"Any support we can get from individuals or organisations can only be a good thing" commented Andy Simpson.
A unified front from large organisations such as The BMC, The Ramblers Association and the MR England and Wales, with realistic goals and a well set-out request, plus a coordinated letter writing campaign from members of all those organisations, as well as UKClimbing.com readers, could tip the balance in favour of the MR.
"With the public finances in the toilet as they are now, it's worth thinking about not only how much the MR teams would save with no VAT, but how much the government would lose. I imagine it's a very small amount relatively speaking, but if any type of organisation is going to ask for relief in paying their taxes they should be able to explain how it helps them so much, whilst not really taking away from something else", commented UKC regular contributor and political analyst Toby Archer, and he's got a point.
The MR teams already have some cross party support in Parliament led by Timothy Farron MP of the Liberal Democrats, who recently tabled an early day motion demanding the government give the teams VAT exemption, but this alone is not enough. In order to fight their case effectively in the current economic climate, the MR community needs to prove not only that they deserve this tax relief, but that it is also going to benefit both hill-goers and the government itself.
Delicate discussion with politicians is not what climbers are known for, but in the modern era of budgets, grants, red tape and litigation, it might become a more useful skill than the traditional fist-jam, especially if the climbing community wants to support this worthy campaign.
Thanks go to Mark Reeves for the photographs. You can read more about Mark on his blog: Life in the vertical.
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