Third sector disappointed with "lean" budget
George Osborne’s Budget offered few concessions for the third sector, despite claims Britain is “walking tall again” after five years of coalition government.
Among the headline figures from his speech was a rise in the National Minimum Wage by 20p an hour to £6.70; £75 million raised from Libor fines to go to charities for regiments which fought in Afghanistan; charities will be able to claim automatic Gift Aid on the first £8,000 raised through sponsored events, up from £5,000; and a review of relief on business rates is promised, which may lead to changes to the existing exemption for charities.
And hospice charities will now be eligible for VAT refunds from 1 April 2015 to be legislated for in the finance bill 2015.
The government announced in the Autumn Statement 2014 that search and rescue and air ambulance charities will be eligible for VAT refunds.
There is no justification for the destructive cuts that impact on the most vulnerable in society - John Swinney
The Association of Air Ambulances says this amounts to a saving of £7.5m for air ambulance charities and could help save an extra 800 lives a year.
Martin Sime, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), said he was disappointed that the increased headroom the chancellor has found within public finances has not been used to soften the “devastating” £12 billion cut from the welfare budget, “continuing his attack on the poorest in society.”
However, he added: “SCVO does welcome further support in the Budget for charities, particularly the extension of VAT rebates to hospices, search and rescue and some medical transport charities. The increase in the small donations Gift Aid Scheme allowance and support for social investment for our sector will help organisations.”
Environmentalists also hit out at tax breaks for gas and oil companies.
A package of support worth £1.3bn to North Sea gas and oil companies was put together to help offset the drop in oil prices and stimulate the industry.
Friends of the Earth Scotland director, Dr Richard Dixon, said: “The UK and Scottish governments should work together to lead a serious discussion on how we plan the transition from fossil fuel jobs to renewable energy jobs.
“Government support for tidal power is certainly very welcome, but it’s a drop in the ocean compared to George Osborne’s multi-billion pound backing for fossil fuel firms over the past five years.”
Deputy first minster John Swinney condemned the continued pursuit of austerity, saying that "we face the same cuts today as we did yesterday", despite the chancellor’s admission that there is headroom for investment in public services.
“If we are to believe the Chancellor that the economy is making such a successful recovery, then there is no justification for the destructive cuts that impact on the most vulnerable in society," he said.