The air discount scheme (ADS), which saves people flying in and out of Shetland 40 per cent of their basic air fare, will no longer apply to travel by businesses and public sector organisations from next April.
There was confusion about the announcement, contained in John Swinney’s draft budget in November, at the most recent external transport forum in Lerwick.
But this week a Transport Scotland spokesman confirmed that – if ADS continues beyond the current financial year – it will no longer be applied to business-related travel.
The spokesman said: “Ministers await the analysis and conclusions of our review of the ADS. If they decide that the scheme should continue beyond March 2011, we will notify the European Commission of that intention.
“The ADS is designed to facilitate a better level of social inclusion for individuals in the eligible areas by reducing the high cost of air fares. It was not the intention that business-related claims should be included in the scheme and ministers have decided that these claims will not be part of the scheme going forward.”
The scheme gives residents in Shetland, as well as Orkney, the Western Isles, Jura, Caithness and north-west Sutherland, a 40 per cent discount on the price – excluding air passenger tax – of air fares.
It was introduced by the Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition in May 2006 and renewed two years later. Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, who was transport minister when ADS was put in place, said he did not see the logic of removing the discount from business and public sector bodies.
“How do you define business? I’ll want to discuss that with Mr Swinney because business can be a one-person sole trader, or it can be Ocean Kinetics. If you remove it from the council and health board it just drives up the cost – our public service employees could be penalised for working in Shetland by reductions in travel budgets.
“The ADS has provided much-needed assistance for Shetlanders and it must continue, and I will be making that case in the budget negotiations we shall be entering into with the government.”
Mr Scott added that the terms of the scheme, which is up for renewal again in March, permitted the government to increase the discount rate from 40 to 50 per cent and also to include other aspects of the ticket price, such as landing charges. He hopes the government will consider doing so.