Mail Room: VAT on listed buildings

Among the raft of VAT changes in the Chancellor’s Budget was the withdrawal of VAT relief on approved alterations to listed buildings. A number of constituents have got in touch with me about this, concerned that it will result in some of our most precious structures falling into disrepair as a result of the increased cost of maintaining them. You can see my response to constituents below:

Thank you for your recent letter regarding VAT exemptions on listed buildings.

You express your disappointment that the Chancellor’s actions in this year’s budget will have severe consequences for the heritage sector in Britain. You note from your own experience that the current zero-rate of VAT on work to listed buildings has made the difference between a project being viable or not.

I share your concerns that a consequence of these measures could be the increase in botched renovations which will have a damaging long term effect to some of the country’s finest architectural triumphs. It is also important to note that as well as the damage to heritage and tourism, the environmental effect of allowing these buildings to fall into disrepair could be widely damaging, causing demolitions and re-building projects. This flies in the face of the government’s supposed commitment to a green agenda.

Harriet Harman MP, Labour’s Deputy Leader and Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, has challenged the Government’s plans. She said:

“Listed buildings are our country’s heritage – our past and our values built into bricks and mortar. The Government’s plan to scrap the zero-rating for approved alterations, alterations which will allow them to continue serving their communities, threaten their future as well as their past.

“In his Easter message, the Prime Minister told the nation that the values of the church make our country what it is. But this year’s Budget threatens churches across the country that serve their congregations and wider communities.

“I urge the Government to reconsider.”

There has recently been a small victory, in large part down to the pressure put on the Government by campaigners such as yourself. The Government has  committed an additional £30 million for the Listed Places of Worship Scheme. My colleague Harriet Harman recently issued Labour’s response to this development:

“This Government’s u-turn is a victory for the campaign by churches and local communities against a wrong-headed proposal in the shambolic Budget.

“But it won’t help the National Trust, all the museums, galleries, theatres, libraries and community centres that are in listed buildings, and which are important for heritage, tourism and local communities. They will still be clobbered by the 20 per cent tax increase, so George Osborne must think again on this.”

I can assure you that Harriet and the rest of Labour’s front bench team will continue to urge the government to change their plans when the opportunity arises.

Of course if you would like to comment further on this issue, you can contact me by email on


Plan B at last?

The Chancellor went to the Mansion House in the City to announce that the Bank of England would be making up to £140bn available to banks to ‘kick start the stagnant economy’ (words from Daily Telegraph). Up to £80bn could be made available to banks to lend on to business or individuals (e.g. as mortgages), with the rest being a scheme which would offer banks liquidity in tranches of less than £5bn a month.

So finally the Chancellor admits there’s a problem – but is this the right answer?

Since the election we’ve had around £300bn of ‘quantitative easing’ which was meant to assist, but many feel that this has simply disappeared into the banks. While that has hopefully made the banks more stable, it has done little to stimulate the economy and has had some adverse consequences, for example to pension funds.

Then we had Project Merlin which was an agreement between Government and the banks to lend to business – seems this didn’t work either.
And what about ‘credit easing’ which was announced with a fanfare in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement? Surely this was meant to get lending going again? I asked a question about this in PMQs earlier this year and the PM was quick to say it was ‘coming’ and sure enough it was announced as ‘in place’ the day before the March budget. We have heard remarkably little about this in the nearly three months since the Budget. Are we to assume from these ‘emergency’ measures that this scheme hasn’t done much?

So it is perhaps not surprising that there is a lot of scepticism about these latest proposals. Will this extra money mean that banks will stop asking quite such high levels of deposit to would be home owners? Most people report the biggest problem being the deposit rather than being able to repay a mortgage. Will people have the confidence to consider buying when jobs are at risk? A report last week told us that it isn’t just first time buyers who are having problems but also those who might in easier times have wanted to ‘trade on’. They too find it difficult to get lending to ‘bridge the gap’ but are also likely to be wary about considering a move when they may not be able to sell.

And even the banks are pointing out that many of those businesses who are desperate for lending may already be in considerable difficulties – and lending to them could be risky. There is in fact considerable evidence that British businesses have capital but are not using it because the demand for their goods and services is simply not there.

Far from being a Plan B this looks like yet more of the same.

What would be better? Just before writing this I was listening to Any Questions on BBC Radio 4. One of the panellists suggested the money would have been better spent given to Housing Associations to build affordable homes. The Tory on the panel rejected this saying that ‘recovery’ would only come from the private sector. Which is odd really because the main beneficiaries from giving the money to housing associations (or councils) would be private building firms! What the Tory Government can’t seem to accept is that public and private sectors are inextricably linked. More people in jobs in turn helps the rest of the local economy as people in work have more disposable income.

Labour has been advocating direct stimulus to sectors like housing – there are many sites in places like Edinburgh which already have planning consent. In addition we have advocated a reduction in VAT and a bank bonus tax.

So panic from the Government yes – but no real sign that things are going to improve!


Press Release: Sheila Gilmore MP supports Guide Dogs’ call to stop attacks on guide dogs

Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore has supported the campaign to stop attacks on guide dogs, and attended a reception at the Houses of Parliament yesterday. The Edinburgh East MP was amongst the 150 members of parliament that backed the charity’s call.

Me at the Guide Dogs reception in the House of Commons on Wednesday 13 June with Dave Kent from Guide Dogs and his guide dog Quince.

New figures that were released on Monday, 11 June, showed attacks on guide dogs are at an all time high and now running at an average of eight a month. Guide Dogs held the reception to highlight the charity’s growing concern about attacks on guide dogs by other dogs and to ask MPs for their support.

The government is currently consulting compulsory microchipping but has said its preferred option is to microchip puppies only. Under this plan, it would take 10 to 15 years before all dogs are microchipped. Guide Dogs believes it would take too long to have an impact and wants to see the compulsory microchipping of all dogs within two years.

Guide Dogs sees the compulsory microchipping of all dogs as a vital first step towards reducing the number of attacks, but believes the Government should go further.

Sheila Gilmore said:

Action needs to be taken to protect guide dogs and their owners from irresponsible dog owners. Microchipping is one step that would make a real difference.

David Cowdrey, Guide Dogs’ Campaigns Manager, said:

An attack on any dog is frightening, but for a guide dog owner it is much worse. With more than eight reported attacks on guide dogs a month, the trauma caused by these unprovoked attacks could leave a blind or partially sighted person a virtual prisoner in their own home.

We welcome Sheila Gilmore’s support for our campaign, and ultimately we want the law changed so an attack on an assistance dog is treated as seriously as an attack on a person.

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is a British charitable organisation founded in 1934. Guide Dogs provides independence and freedom to thousands of blind and partially sighted people across the UK through the provision of guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services. It also campaigns passionately for the rights of those with visual impairments. Guide Dogs is working towards a society in which blind and partially sighted people enjoy the same freedom of movement as everyone else.


Mail Room: Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is an issue on which I regularly receive correspondence. There is certainly a lot of anxiety around this method of gas extraction, fuelled by some of the devastating effects seen in the United States. You can see the correspondence I have had with constituents and the Minister on this issue below:

Thank you for your recent email regarding hydraulic fracturing.

While hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a viable way to extract natural gas, I oppose it on the basis that it has the potential to pollute ground water and air quality.

Following an approach from another constituent I wrote to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne regarding this issue. In my letter I set out concerns regarding the negative impacts of fracking. I acknowledged the suggestion that the process leads to increasing pollution in ground water and deteriorating air quality. I noted that fracking operations were halted in Lancashire after minor earthquakes followed drilling. I requested for an immediate moratorium on the extraction of natural gas until all the impacts and associated risks are fully understood.

I received a response dated 30 December 2011 from Charles Hendry, Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Please find a copy attached. Mr Hendry states that the Government supports industry’s pursuit of shale gas so long as tapping of such resources proves to be technically and environmentally viable. With regard to your concerns surrounding safety assurances, he notes that the process is subject to scrutiny by the relevant environmental agency, regulation by the Health and Safety Executive, planning permission by local authorities, and licensing by DECC. While the Minister acknowledges concerns regarding the experience of fracking in the USA, he argues that the controls in place in the UK should mean that any such activities are safe, and that there is no justification for a moratorium. The Minister also refers to an Energy and Climate Change Select Committee report on this subject. You can find a copy here:

Thank you for taking the time to write to me.

Please see below the response from Mr Charles Hendry MP:

Letter from Charles Hendry(If you can’t read the text of this letter you just need to click on it a couple of times to view it in full screen and then again to zoom in)

Of course if you would like to comment further on this issue, you can contact me by email on




Press release: Labour MP uncovers Government dithering on injured veterans’ disability benefits

Edinburgh East Labour MP and Work and Pensions Select Committee member Sheila Gilmore today slammed Government dithering on whether injured veterans will have to undergo tests for a new disability benefit. This follows media reports that suggested David Cameron had personally intervened to ensure disabled ex-soldiers would not have to be assessed.

Sheila Gilmore was speaking after receiving an answer to a written parliamentary question asking whether veterans injured on active service will be exempt from assessment for the Personal Independence Payment, the replacement for Disability Living Allowance. In her response the Disability Minister Maria Miller claimed that ‘all applicants would be required to undergo an assessment’ but then said ‘we are working with the Ministry of Defence to consider what arrangements would best take account of the unique situation of severely injured service personnel’.

Sheila Gilmore submitted this question after an article appeared in The Sun newspaper claiming David Cameron had ‘slapped down MoD bureaucrats and ruled that anyone left disabled by military service must be exempt from benefit cuts’. The article went to claim injured veterans will ‘be exempt from a new scheme to re-examine all claimants aged 16 to 64’.

Sheila Gilmore said:

This written answer shows this Tory-led Government are dithering on whether injured veterans should undergo assessments for the new Personal Independence Payment.

It also shows how desperate Downing Street are for good press coverage with spin doctors having told The Sun that veterans would be exempt, only for the Minister responsible to admit the issue was still under review.

The Government should stop dithering and exempt all people with serious injuries and disabilities from face to face assessments. Instead they should refer to evidence from medical professionals with detailed and longstanding knowledge of claimants’ conditions. This would save public money and reduce the stress and anxiety experienced by disabled people, whether they are veterans or not.