Northern Isles MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur have renewed calls for isles-based businesses to be allowed back into the Air Discount Scheme, following research published by the Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership.
In 2011, without any prior consultation, the Scottish Government chose to exclude isles-based businesses ADS support. Since then, SNP Ministers have refused to undertake any assessment of the impact on the businesses or local economies most directly affected.
The Air Discount Scheme was introduced on lifeline air routes serving Scotland's island and remote rural communities in 2006, by then Liberal Democrat Transport Minister and Shetland MSP, Tavish Scott. Recognising the high travel costs faced by these communities, ADS was intended to level the playing field and support economic and social development.
Hitrans, working with islands councils, commissioned a study in the summer which examined extending the air discount scheme to businesses. Experts now believe that incorporating businesses into the scheme, which would cut core air fares by 50%, could cost between £661,000 and £1.6 million. The paper was discussed at the last Islands Transport Forum, where Ministers agreed to consider its recommendations.
Commenting, Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur said:
"The Air Discount Scheme has delivered long-lasting benefits to our island communities since its introduction in 2006. Reducing the cost of travel on our lifeline air and ferry services is a crucial part of levelling the playing field, allowing our islands to fulfil their potential.
"The decision by SNP Ministers to cut ADS for business travel back in 2011 was never sustainable. It was taken without any prior consultation or attempt to establish the effect it would have on local businesses and the economies in our islands. Ministers tried to blame the EU, ignoring the fact that the scheme had already received EU approval on two separate occasions.
“In the meantime, it is businesses in Orkney and Shetland that have paid the price. The research from Hitrans confirms this, with some 61% of businesses indicating that the cut in ADS had a negative impact on staff productivity, turnover and operating costs. Instead of levelling the playing field, Scottish Ministers have stacked the deck against island businesses, making it harder and harder for them to compete.
“Hitrans are to be congratulated for making the unanswerable case to reverse this decision. It is time for the Transport Minister to right this wrong, with next week’s Parliamentary debate on islands communities a prime opportunity to do just that.”