The Scottish government has decided to offer the Air Discount Scheme (ADS) to charitable groups after all, despite previously insisting voluntary organisations must pay the full amount on air fares on flights away from rural island groups such as Shetland.
Transport minister Keith Brown confirmed the news during a visit to Stornoway today, although businesses will still have to stump up the full amount for air travel.
It comes after speculation in May that the SNP authority was re-examining ADS, and its unpopular decision to exclude charities and businesses from the scheme in April last year.
At the time the government claimed the steps to limit the scheme were initiated by Europe – a point hotly contested by isles MSP Tavish Scott, who introduced ADS when he was transport minister in 2006.
Mr Scott welcomed today’s news, but he insisted businesses should still be represented under the terms of the scheme.
He said: “Shetland’s voluntary and charitable organisations always were eligible for ADS from 2006 when as transport minister I introduced this financial help with the cost of flying. The nationalist government changed the rules to restrict eligibility.
“They were quite wrong to do that and lied about the reasons. Since April 2011 voluntary and charitable groups have been paying full fares to attend meetings on the Scottish mainland. That should not have happened and the government should apologise and repay the people affected by their incompetence.
“So reinstating ADS to these group helps but Shetland businesses who should still be able to use the scheme cannot. I will continue to campaign for the full ADS that I introduced with the complete agreement of the European Commission so that more people in Shetland can be helped by ADS with a 40 per cent reduction on air fares to the Scottish mainland.”
Mr Brown said: “Since its introduction in 2006, the Air Discount Scheme has been an overwhelming success. Its 70,000 members have taken advantage of the 40 per cent discount on core fares with over one million tickets discounted to date.
“We are committed to ensuring that the scheme is targeted at and used by those who benefit most and that is why I am delighted to make this announcement today.
“By extending the scheme to the third sector, organisations that help some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our communities will be assisted in maintaining networks and accessing training opportunities which are essential to the work they undertake.
“This initiative takes effect immediately and we hope as many organisations as possible take up this opportunity in the interests of promoting the work of this vital sector and supporting the social wellbeing of the communities they serve.”