Bridge Users Will Not Pay VAT

The Scottish Executive has pledged to meet the extra costs for Skye Bridge users if Value Added Tax is imposed on bridge toll by the European Commission.

Motorists could face an increase of 17.5% on the toll charges if EU moves to standardize consumer VAT across the European Union go ahead. The Commission is pursuing the case through the European courts in order to force EU member states to comply.

Automobile Association spokesman Neil Gregg said VAT would be another tax on the motorist, particularly in rural areas.  He said: "We think this an outrageous example of European bureaucracy gone mad. On the one hand the European community is giving regional development aid to Scotland for tourism and local development but this move will see Scottish motorists paying some of that money back."

Mr Gregg said Greece, France and Ireland were also challenging the levying of VAT on tolls. "It's interesting that if this move does go ahead it might cost Scottish motorists 30 to drive to the south of France, for instance, so there will be effects across the whole of Europe because of this ruling," he added.

Meanwhile, the true extent of the new freedom of information regime is likely to be put to an early test by SKAT.

They want to see a letter which, it is claimed, can prove whether Scotland's highest judge, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, was compromised by a conflict of interest when he heard three appeal cases.

MP Charles Kennedy has tried repeatedly to have the letter published, but the Lord Advocate, Lord Hardie, has refused.

The letter, withheld under the 75-year rule, was sent by the Crown Office on November 6, 1995 when Lord Rodger was Lord Advocate. It was in response to letters from the procurator fiscal in Dingwall on October 17 and October 26, in which guidance was sought on whether people refusing to pay tolls should be prosecuted.

On November 21 Lord Rodger became a judge. As Lord Justice General, he heard three Skye Bridge appeals on June 18 and July 25, 1997, and on December 17 1998, all of which effectively challenged the prosecution policy of the Crown. The Scottish Office always insisted that Lord Rodger would never hear an appeal if it had begun as a prosecution while he was Lord Advocate.

Professor Robert Black of Edinburgh University, however, hold that if the letter of November 6 states or in any way implies that a policy of prosecuting the bridge campaigners had already been decided by the Crown Office, then Lord Rodger could be seen to have been compromised.

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Copyright Ray Shields, 1999.

Most recent revision, 05 December 1999