By a Newsnet reporter
Lib Dem MP for Inverness Nairn Badenoch and Strathspey, Danny Alexander, who is also Chief Secretary to the UK Treasury, has been accused of “appalling hypocrisy” by the SNP after air company Flybe announced the sale of its Gatwick landing slots, which will result in the loss of flights between Inverness and London.
Mr Alexander uses the flights and has spoken of their importance to the Highland economy, however the service is now being withdrawn in part due to the refusal of Mr Alexander’s department to allow the devolution of air passenger duty to the Scottish Parliament.
The Managing Director of Flybe has revealed that “the punitive levels of Air Passenger Duty (APD) imposed on UK domestic airlines has meant that not one of Flybe’s services to Gatwick has returned a profit over the last year.”
Mr Alexander has written to Westminster’s Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin to express his concern, pledging the government would do “everything we can” to ensure the future of the service. Despite Mr Alexander’s pledge, the UK Government is unwilling to reconsider devolving APD to the Scottish Parliament.
“The direct air links between Inverness and Gatwick are of huge importance to the local economy,” Mr Alexander said.
“They connect global investors to our local economy, enable local businesses to grow and support our tourism sector too.
“I keep in regular contact with Flybe, and have supported them on a number of issues over the last few years. But the reports that they may be considering selling slots is very worrying and creates real uncertainty locally. I have expressed these concerns directly.
“I have also raised these issues with the secretary of state for transport, because maintaining regional connectivity is important for the wider economy.
“We need to do everything we can to ensure that Inverness’ direct connections to the main London airports are maintained.”
SNP MSPs have said that Flybe’s sale of its Gatwick landing slots highlights the urgent need for Scotland to have responsibility for Air Passenger Duty (APD).
Inverness MSP Fergus Ewing accused Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander of hypocrisy regarding his comments about the flights’ importance to the Highland economy.
Mr Ewing, SNP MSP for Inverness and Nairn, said:
“The loss of these services would be a hammer blow for the Highlands. The Inverness Flybe service is the one used by Danny Alexander to get to Westminster – and now it is being withdrawn, in part because APD is too high.
“That is because of the taxation policies of Danny Alexander’s own government – and he is guilty of the most appalling hypocrisy on this issue, just as he was on the question of his own North Sea tax plans which hammered the oil and gas industry.
“It is all very well hearing he is concerned but perhaps now the Chief Secretary to the UK Treasury will sit up and take notice and realise how damaging Westminster’s grip on Scotland’s economy is.”
Dave Thompson MSP, the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, outlined that this damaging development was entirely of Westminster’s making and had followed SNP warnings on the risk to Inverness flights.
“The SNP warned that the budget hike in Air Passenger Duty would be damaging for Scotland’s airports and the wider economy. We told Westminster that increasing the cost for airlines to fly to Scottish airports is the last thing they need – but they went ahead and did it anyway.
“APD is already devolved to Northern Ireland. We need decisions over Scotland’s taxes to be made by people in Scotland, who are by definition the best-placed to put our interests first.
“And Danny Alexander’s comments will cut no ice with the communities he is supposed to represent. As is so often the case, he puts the Treasury’s needs ahead of what is in the best interests of the Highlands and Islands.”