Northern Isles MSPs Liam McArthur and Beatrice Wishart have criticised the SNP Government for distorting its record on the Air Discount Scheme.
Responding to a Parliamentary Question lodged by Orkney MSP Liam McArthur on business travel within the scheme, Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said, “Business-related travel was not removed from the Air Discount Scheme as it has never been eligible under the scheme. The then Minister for Transport and the Islands stated in June 2017 that we did not have the financial resources to extend the scheme to business-related travel and that remains the case.”
The Air Discount Scheme was introduced in 2006 by the then Lib Dem Transport Minister, Tavish Scott. At that time, work-related travel was included, recognising, in part, that providing a more level playing field for island businesses was key to sustaining population. In April 2011, however, the SNP Government decided to cut business travel for the scheme, insisting that it broke EU rules. Ministers have since been forced to admit that this was untrue and that the decision had been taken for cost-cutting reasons.
Commenting, Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur said:
“This reply from the Cabinet Secretary is just the latest in a long line of untruths spun by this SNP government in relation to the Air Discount Scheme. When Tavish Scott first introduced ADS in 2006, it covered all flights taken by islanders to and from the Scottish mainland, with the exception of medical flights. It was designed this way, in part, to help businesses in the Northern Isles contribute to their communities and compete on a more level playing field with mainland firms.
“For Mr Matheson to state that business-related travel has never been eligible under the scheme, therefore, is flat out wrong. Just as his predecessors were entirely wrong in claiming the decision by the SNP government to cut business-related travel from the scheme was required under EU state aid rules.
“Rather than continue to try re-writing history, Mr Matheson should do the right thing and reverse this cut.”
Ms Wishart added:
“Huge travel costs make it a challenge for small businesses to run sustainably. That’s on top of the other expenses that come from operating in rural and island communities, like increased fuel and delivery costs.
“If the Government is serious about its National Islands Plan and helping island communities thrive, it must reinstate ADS for business travel for companies based in the Northern Isles. The economic and social case has already been made.”