MSP Tavish Scott has appealed for a re-introduction of the air discount scheme for business purposes after it was revealed that 60,000 fewer passengers were eligible for the subsidy than in 2010, a year after it started.
Mr Scott, who is credited with first introducing the scheme, branded the Scottish government’s axing of business traffic from the ADS a “badly thought out decision”.
Figures on how many people benefited from the scheme were revealed in answers to Scottish parliamentary questions lodged by Orkney MSP Liam McArthur.
In its first year the ADS reduced the cost of over 185,000 flights to and from the Northern Isles, but this figure dropped by 60,000 once business travel was excluded.
Mr Scott said: “The SNP’s cuts to ADS are hitting local businesses in Shetland. Liam McArthur’s work demonstrates that fact.
“I still hope that the nationalist government will change this badly thought out decision. That would especially be the case given the first SNP transport minister endorsed the original ADS I had introduced which helped businesses too.
“It would also be helpful if the leaders of the islands councils supported this campaign within Our Islands Our Future.”
Mr McArthur said the figures showed the extent of the impact on small businesses in the islands.
He said: “It is no surprise then to find that over 60,000 fewer journeys benefited from the scheme this year compared to 2010. That means increased costs for small businesses in Orkney, just when they can ill afford the additional burden.
“My colleague Tavish Scott introduced ADS in 2006 when he was transport minister. At the time, he made very clear that this was a response to the disadvantage faced by those living and working in our island communities as a result of the high cost of accessing lifeline air services.
“Without any prior warning or consultation, however, SNP ministers decided to remove this support from small businesses in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.
“Attempts to blame the European Commission were a smokescreen, as it was Scottish ministers who requested a change in the scheme to allow cuts to be made.”
Mr McArthur said businesses in Orkney “knew only too well” the effect this had in pushing up their costs or reducing opportunities to attend events and meetings down south.
“What the figures I have now received from the Scottish government reveal is the true extent of the cuts and the reduction in support available,” he said.
Figures revealed by transport minister Keith Brown were: 2009 – claims made 144,725; 2010 – claims made 185,633; 2011 – claims made – 161,402 (124 flights not approved); 2012 – claims made 136,607 (268 flights not approved); 2013 – claims made – 124,959 (174 flights not approved).