Letter from Edinburgh
You wouldn’t believe the size of the pile of Amazon and Play.com boxes in the Lerwick Post Office. Actually you would. I guess it’s a sign of the retail times, and some reflection on wintry weather that so many Christmas presents are bought online.
Our posties and Royal Mail staff deserve a hearty thank you for their sterling work to deliver the mail at this time of year. When I visited last week, I heard that the backlog of mail stuck in the central belt will make this week very busy, as parcels arrive by boat and more by plane.
Any future changes to the Post Office must ensure the Universal Service Obligation is guaranteed – that’s the way in which rural and islands will maintain their everyday deliveries and a universal price across the country.
That is a vital part of what makes the postal service so important. And especially so, at this time of year, to older folk across the isles who particularly enjoy receiving Christmas cards and notes from family and friends near and far. That’s why the word “service” is in the phrase Universal Service Obligation.
On the same theme, these huge corporate businesses like Amazon are pulling a fast one on tax. One of the reasons they can sell CDs cheaper than in a shop, is that they don’t pay VAT.
Why you might ask? Because successive governments have allowed these enormous corporate businesses to send CDs and any product worth less than £18 to the Channel Islands and then back to customers across the UK. This scam means no VAT is levied on the product. That costs the Treasury an estimated £165 million a year.
I cannot work out a reason why this practice is allowed at any time, but especially when the finances of the country are so awful.
The other impact is on independent record shops. It is estimated that 600 have closed across the UK as a result. It’s not just Amazon. Tesco online and many other major retailers do this too.
The Treasury now says it is reviewing this policy and rightly so. I’ve been buying CDs or even 45s in Clive’s since I was a pupil at the Anderson High School. Yes, I’m also an Amazon customer. But keeping local and independent record shops going, by stopping a tax avoidance scam, would be the right thing to do. And whatever way this works out, our posties will still deliver the CDs and the like to your front door.
This is the last epistle before the festive season so may I, through the pages of The Shetland Times, wish everyone across the isles a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
Tavish Scott MSP