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We all rely upon the work of Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to keep our families and communities’ safe. However, Scotland’s public finances are being drained by a needless £43 million every year, because the UK Tory Government insists on slapping VAT on our police and fire services, despite the equivalent forces elsewhere in the UK being completely exempt from this charge.

A staggering £140 million has already been paid out in VAT to the UK Treasury. The SNP has called repeatedly for this indefensible situation to be ended, but the Tories insist on starving our emergency services of funds.

Austerity has had a significant impact, with cuts to our budget from first Labour, then the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition and now the Tories alone, such that Scotland’s budget is now £2,900 million (9%) less in real terms than a decade ago, with a further £200 million cut anticipated. This means that every year the SNP Government has an increasingly difficult job in delivering the high quality of public services that people in Scotland deserve. That’s why this VAT anomaly must be resolved.

VAT on everything Police Scotland or the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service buy costs them 20% more than other UK forces. That is unacceptable.

Our police and fire services work in jobs which put them in the path of danger, while they look after our safety. Surely, we owe them the courtesy of stopping this tax grab which makes their difficult jobs even harder. Just imagine what more could be done to enhance the services they deliver with the additional funding the UK Treasury is siphoning off?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer seems singularly unable to explain why he allows this. We know he can sort it, having already done so for Academy Schools in England, Highways England and the National Crime Agency. This being the case, it is wrong-headed in the extreme to continue penalising our agencies. It is high time the Tories stood up for our public services and rallied behind our police officers and firefighters. Their MPs must join us in demanding their Chancellor applies some common sense and removes this anomaly for good.

It is a sad irony that in England and Wales the UK Government funds 43 police forces, all with costly Police Commissioners, whilst cutting front line officers by 20,000 - some 16%. In Scotland, we streamlined our structures expressly to protect the vital front-line services people rely on, increasing the number of uniformed officers by 1,000. Crime in Scotland is now at a 42 year low. It seems we are being penalised for this success.

The UK Government makes positive noises about treating Scotland with respect, but that disappears when one considers how they treat our Police and Fire Services.

This has gone on long enough. To carry on with this snatch and grab from our police and fire budgets is indefensible, and the Tories need to put a stop to it now, for all our sakes.

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