The Air Discount Scheme (ADS), introduced in 2006, was operating very nicely thank you until April this year when the Scottish government decided to exclude business travellers and those from public sector bodies and charities. Like the majority of reforms introduced by politicians at present, it was a cost-cutting measure.
Needless to say, this has had a significant effect on organisations in Shetland, as a survey carried out for MSP Tavish Scott, due to be published in full next week, will reveal.
Yet last week transport minister Keith Brown, in a debate on the issue in the Scottish Parliament, said legal advice from the European Commission was that organisations should not benefit as it was a social aid scheme designed to help individuals. Two things flow from this: firstly, it confirms that the government’s original decision was arbitrary (the advice having only been sought after the event) and secondly, it illustrates the minister’s utterly craven approach to the commission.
Between 2006 and April this year there had been no challenge made to the scheme’s operation, which suggests that either no-one in officialdom was looking or was much concerned: instead of accepting the advice could he not have made the argument for the scheme? At the very least, charities and organisations such as NHS Shetland provide social benefits.
The irony is that the government accepts the logic of creating a more equitable system of fares for ferry travel to remote islands, hence its road equivalent tariff trial in the Western Isles. On ADS, it has made a quick and ill-conceived saving, and island-dwellers are paying the price.