International Rescue, forced to curtail its activities in recent years because of rocketing fuel prices, says Chancellor George Osborne’s proposed private jet tax is one regulatory burden too far and will make cessation of operations inevitable.
Proprietor Jeff Tracy said that the burden of red tape and high taxation had become too much for owner-managed small businesses such as Thunderbirds. ‘We were forced offshore in the first place by petty planning regulations,’ he said. ‘I had identified a perfect site near Coventry with excellent access and communications, but we failed to satisfy a needs test after a public consultation, not to mention problems with protected newts.
‘And then the offshore tax advantages have been steadily eroded by a series of new anti-avoidance measures. We can’t even accept big donations any more because of disclosure requirements: it turned out that one of our main benefactors was our arch-enemy The Hood, laundering his ill-gotten gains. Imagine if that had got out.’
Mr Tracy said that the loss of charitable status – after accusations of elitism because they only undertook spectacularly dangerous rescues – had hit Thunderbirds hard, and the 20% VAT charge had been crippling. Added to that was their inability to rescue children without first submitting to criminal records checks and, more recently, the end of the organisation’s opt-out from the Working Time Directive. ‘You get situations where the lads have to interrupt a rescue mission to take a seven hour break – it causes havoc with our scheduling.’
Another problem had been the unforeseen growth in mobile communications. ‘We used to find it simple to monitor the airwaves for distress calls,’ said John Tracy from space station Thunderbird 5, but now you get so many prank mobile calls and tweets you don’t know what’s what any more. And our communicator wrist watches used to be pretty cool, but people just laugh at them now.’
Jeff Tracy said his only hope now, after the defection of Lady Penelope to the Socialist Workers Party, was an offer of support from fellow exile Lord Ashcroft. ‘He’s offered to pull a few strings,’ said Mr Tracy.