Mountain rescuers at work in the Lake District

Mountain rescuers at work in the Lake District

Supporters of the mountain-rescue movement are petitioning Gordon Brown to put their volunteers on the same footing as lifeboat crews.

At present, mountain rescue teams, which are charities staffed by volunteers, have to pay VAT on much of their expenditure, unlike their waterborne counterparts. Now, more than 500 people have added their names to an e-petition calling on the Prime Minister to give the teams VAT exemption.

The petition, started by Richard Glazzard, runs until 6 May and says: “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to give VAT exemptions to the mountain rescue service on all of their spending.

“This petition is aimed ensuring the mountain rescue service is exempt from VAT on all of their equipment and spending as they provide a service that would otherwise be very costly to the Government. This service should mirror the lifeboat service and other voluntary services.”

Mountain rescue teams’ spending on fuel, council tax, water charges, rent and other day-to-day costs are currently subject to payment of VAT. Special equipment is exempt. However, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which operates more than 300 boats around Britain, does not pay VAT.

The problem was also raised in the House of Lords by Lord Greaves, the Liberal Democrats’ spokesman for environment, food and rural affairs. He tabled a question asking whether the Government would consider bringing mountain rescue in line with the RNLI.

An RNLI lifeboat. Photo: RNLI/Martin Cavaney Photography Ltd

An RNLI lifeboat. Photo: RNLI/Martin Cavaney Photography Ltd

He told the House: “Mountain and cave rescue services in this country rescue many people and save many lives each year. It is all done on a voluntary basis and, in England, depends entirely on donations.

“It seems ridiculous that the service, which, if the Government had to step in and replace it, might cost £6m a year, is subject to VAT on its equipment and most of its spending, when the equivalent service, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, is not.”

But in reply, the Government’s deputy chief whip Lord Davies of Oldham told Lord Greaves a change was unlikely, because it would need the agreement of all 26 other European countries. He said: “I agree entirely that the rescue service is greatly valued wherever it operates in the United Kingdom. I had personal experience of the Oldham service in the Pennines. It does a magnificent job through voluntary effort. We will give every support that we can. However, the one thing that we cannot do is extend VAT relief.”

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Addington replied that the Government should give mountain rescue teams support. “If there is not a case for giving this sort of support,” he said, “I am afraid that the Government really have lost the plot.”

Westmorland and Lonsdale Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron has also spoken in favour of the exemption for MRTs.

In the Upper Chamber, Lord Davies argued that the RNLI was able to be exempted from VAT because it had been around for a long time before the inception of the European Community and because many EU countries had a vested interest in lifeboats because it exports so many goods by sea.

grough readers wanting to add their names to the petition can find it on the No 10 website.