Government, not Europe responsible for cuts to air discount scheme
Moves last year to exclude businesses and charities from the air discount scheme were initiated by the Scottish government rather than the European Commission, according to information gleaned from a Freedom of Information request.
The FOI submission by Labour MSP David Stewart has shown St Andrews House was responsible for withdrawing the popular ADS – which offers a 40 per cent discount on flights from the isles – from firms and voluntary groups.
Despite this, the Scottish government’s transport body has reiterated its claim that it was acting on advice from Europe by restricting the scheme last April.
Last year transport minister Keith Brown poured cold water on hopes the SNP’s decision might be reversed, claiming European advice showed the scheme was meant for “individual scheme members” only and that “economic activity should not profit from the scheme”.
Prompted in March by Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon, Mr Stewart submitted an FOI request and learned the SNP had initiated the restrictions, with a view to saving £2.7 million a year.
Isles MSP Tavish Scott was responsible for introducing ADS in 2006 when he was transport minister. He has previously refused to accept the view that the argument to cut ADS had come from Europe.
Today he insisted the SNP authority had “misled” people in the isles.
“The Scottish government have misled travellers in Shetland by blaming the European Commission for their own decision.
“They decided to stop business travellers benefiting from the scheme, as well as people working for voluntary and charitable organisations.
“They carried out no consultation, and there was no discussion with the SIC or any interested parties in the islands, and now they’re scrambling around trying to blame everybody else.
“What islanders expect is an honest government who will say why they have made the change.”
However a spokesman for Transport Scotland said the scheme had always been intended for individuals.
“The exclusion of business-related travel is not a new element introduced to the air discount scheme in 2011.
“It is an original component of the scheme which the Labour-Liberal Democrat government established in 2006.
“When approving the air discount scheme, the European Commission was specific in confirming that Aid of a Social Character schemes are for the benefit of individuals.
“Following meetings with local councils and MSPs representing island communities last year, the transport minister agreed to approach the European Commission seeking clarification on the use of the scheme for business related travel.
“In response, the commission reiterated that Aid of a Social Character is for the benefit of individuals and indicated that it has no difficulty with the exclusion of business-related travel from the ADS.
“Whilst we are aware that business-related claims have been made in the past, the Scottish government is more actively enforcing this original component of the scheme.”
Last year Mr Scott organised a major survey which showed employers and charities were losing out following the new restrictions on ADS.
His findings showed 86 per cent of respondents said they would have to cut the number of flights they take as direct result of the cut.
Over a third of respondents complained they had no money to allow for such increases and their businesses would suffer as a result.