DEAR Chancellor,

We are writing as representatives of some of the many Scottish businesses that benefit from our country’s position as a prime destination for visitors from around the world.

The coronavirus pandemic has been hugely challenging for us all, but we have worked hard to adapt and protect as many jobs as possible. That is why we are deeply concerned at the Treasury’s decision to abolish the VAT Retail Export Scheme and airside extra-statutory concession supporting tax-free shopping for international tourists from the beginning of next year.

At a time when both Westminster and Holyrood have been making efforts to help businesses survive, this represents a clear and present risk of reduced sales for the retail and other industries, together with overall tax revenues to the Scottish and UK Exchequers.

READ MORE: Businesses urge UK Government to keep VAT free shopping

The changes will drive away a number of very price-sensitive international tourists who come to Scotland to shop, stay in prime visitor accommodation, and enjoy our fantastic cultural venues at the same time. Many of these tourists may begin their holiday in Edinburgh or Glasgow but then head across Scotland to Stirling, Perth, the Borders, Inverness, Skye, or many other places besides.

We respectfully submit that further consideration should be provided by HM Treasury to the full impact upon business, particularly employment in Scotland. We are willing to work with you and your officials to further explore the impact on regional employment within Scotland, and to find solutions to preserve both reliefs while limiting any fiscal impact to HM Treasury.

We need only to look at recent trends in spending and footfall to see that tourists looking to shop while on holiday are extremely price-sensitive. After depreciation of the pound against the dollar by 18% in 2016, the amount spent by visitors using the reliefs nationwide went up year on year by 28% in August 2016 and 43% in September 2016. A corresponding reduction of visitors to Scotland as a result of any confirmed decision to remove the reliefs would have a major impact on businesses which are already struggling to stay afloat.

The UK Government has argued that businesses should be match-fit to seize the opportunities of more globally orientated trade and economic growth policies. These changes would not achieve these outcomes in our view: they remove valuable incentives for tourists to visit the UK and will leave business in Scotland at a disadvantage relative to the continent. Already, other European countries are making moves to get a competitive edge for foreign visitors – for instance, France has just lowered its threshold for tourists to reclaim VAT on qualifying purchases made there.

We are therefore asking you to urgently reconsider this measure in the coming weeks, working with us on alternative options, which promote support for employment in the retail and other key industries in Scotland.

At this critical time of recovery for our sector, we hope you will work with us in retaining these reliefs, and generating business growth in Scotland which will help us, and you, to build back better.

Roddy Smith – CEO, Essential Edinburgh;
Peter Proud – CEO, Forrit; Simon Cotton – CEO, Johnstons of Elgin;
Karen Stewart – Centre Manager, Livingston Designer Outlet;
Kyron Keogh – Managing Director, ROX;
Liz Cameron OBE – CEO, Scottish Chambers of Commerce;
David Lonsdale – Director, Scottish Retail Consortium;
Patrick Birkbeck – Managing Director, House of Bruar;
Mark Keane – Chief Executive, Kiltane Group;
Liz McAreavey – Chief Executive, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce;
Jonathan Payne – Managing Director, Hamilton & Inches;
Louise Masson – General Manager, Harvey Nichols;
Willie Macleod – Executive Director – Scotland, UKHospitality;
Marc Crothall – Chief Executive, Scottish Tourism Alliance;
Harry Brown – Founder and Managing Director, Chisholm Hunter Group

I FEEL obliged to set the record straight on behalf of community pharmacy, regarding several erroneous points made in Isobel Lindsay’s letter of October 30.

Many of the pharmacies and staff she speaks of in Scotland work not for large commercial companies (whether they have “questionable records” or not I won’t go into) but for independent contractors like myself, who have always treated staff well financially and otherwise, and who have never, ever pressurised them to meet financial targets.

READ MORE: Letters, October 30

The inability or otherwise of GP surgeries to provide face-to-face consultations has led inevitably to community pharmacy having to step up to help out, under very trying circumstances in the last six months. Not many(any) other NHS contractors have been so available to the public, regardless of concern over personal safety, so I think a little praise may be due, rather than Isobel’s rather cynical take on the situation

John Currie
via email

THIS week marks Occupational Therapy Week and I want to personally thank these unsung heroes who make a difference to so many lives.

As someone living with a terminal illness, I am a day patient at the Marie Curie Edinburgh hospice and I never imagined occupational therapists would play a vital role in my life.

Whether it has been attending relevant classes to ease conditions such as fatigue, anxiety and breathlessness, to discovering what allowances I was entitled to and taking part in the various day therapy sessions on offer, they have also made sure I can continue living independently at home too.

Their constant support and advice has kept me safe in these unprecedented times and without occupational therapists, my life – like those of so many others – would be very different to what it is today.

Helen Hogg