Fashion stalwart Harold Tillman backs call to axe tourists’ VAT bills

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Fashion stalwart Harold Tillman backs call to axe tourists’ VAT bills

By Emily Hawkins, Financial Mail On Sunday

21:50 13 May 2023, updated 21:50 13 May 2023

One of the biggest names in British fashion, Harold Tillman, has become the latest figure to back the Mail’s campaign to stop a controversial tourist tax as figures show restoring VAT-free shopping would boost the economy by £20 billion over five years.

Tillman, the former head of fashion brand Jaeger and luxury retailer Aquascutum, said it was nonsense for the UK to be at a disadvantage over an ‘unnecessary’ tax. His pleas for the Government to ditch the levy come a day after it was revealed 200 top firms are now supporting the campaign.

The bosses of The Ritz London, Langham Hotels and Longchamp are among the latest signatories to a letter organised by hotelier Sir Rocco Forte urging Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to bring back tax-free shopping for foreign tourists. 

Tillman’s comments come as analysis of forecasts by Oxford Economics shows reversing the ban would add £20.5 billion to GDP in five years.

It would inject £4.1 billion per year to the economy and support 78,000 jobs, experts claim.

Oxford Economics and big-name retailers, hoteliers and public figures argue it would encourage more visitors and boost spending in hotels, restaurants and theatres, outweighing the cost of refunds.

Then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak scrapped a 20 per cent VAT refund for overseas shoppers in 2021.

Tillman, chairman of the British Fashion Council for five years, said he has been inundated with calls from young designers and established names. He said: ‘I have lost count of how many calls I have had from people saying, ‘can you do something, this is crazy?’

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Tillman added: ‘Why are we actually shooting ourselves in both legs by not competing by having the same tax advantage that other countries [have]? London is a wonderful city to encourage people to come to. We are competitive [but] notwithstanding that, we are not helping ourselves with this unnecessary tax.’

A Treasury spokesman said: ‘VAT-free shopping does not directly benefit Brits – it allows foreign tourists who buy items in the UK to claim back VAT as they return home. We continue to back high street retailers by slashing business rates bills by 75 per cent, helping with energy bills and effectively cutting corporation tax by £27 billion through full-expensing.’

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