Westminster accused of hypocrisy after Air Passenger Duty devolved to Northern Ireland

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By a Newsnet reporter
 
The UK Treasury has been accused of outright hypocrisy after yesterday’s announcement that Air Passenger Duty (APD) is to be devolved to Northern Ireland.
 
The announcement came on the same day UK Treasury Minister David Gauke refused to concede that any extra powers should be added to the Scotland Bill, despite Air Passenger Duty being recommended for devolution by the Calman Commission.

Yesterday Amanda McMillan, Managing Director of Glasgow Airport, added her voice to a growing list of business people calling for the power to be devolved to Scotland.

Ms McMillan said: “APD is more of a blunt tax on the industry, £2.2bn goes into the exchequer so the industry is ‘paying its way’.

Ms McMillan spoke of airlines being “risk averse” and reluctant to try new routes.  She explained the difficulty in persuading airlines to fly new long haul routes to and from Scotland when the APD was greater than £100 and said “It is more expensive to fly in and out of Scotland.”

She added: “We have been quite enthused by the current administration’s position on APD about devolving it and doing something creative.”
 
Derek MacKay MSP, who represents Glasgow airport and heard the calls for APD to be devolved reacted angrily to the Treasury’s refusal to grant Scotland the same powers and said:

“On the same day the Treasury is defending not devolving flight tax to Scotland, it is giving this very power to Northern Ireland.

“This is blatantly hypocritical from the UK Government.  The Calman Commission said APD should be devolved – but instead Westminster left it out of the Scotland Bill.”

Mr MacKay attacked LibDem Treasury Chief Danny Alexander who yesterday admitted that successive UK government’s had ‘ignored’ Scotland.

The SNP MSP said that devolving APD presented an opportunity to the UK government to prove they are now listening.

Citing other bodies who claim the move would have boosted tourism he added:

“Support is growing with the Scottish Chamber of Commerce saying it believes air passenger duty should be devolved to bring more visitors to Scotland and bolster international connectivity and the Managing Director of Glasgow airport saying devolving APD would ensure the importance of aviation in Scotland is properly recognised.

“Scotland relies on air transport for domestic travel with six million people flying between Scotland and London each year.

“It is time for the UK Government to stop being hypocritical and allow Scotland to have control over flight taxes, just like Northern Ireland.”

Giving evidence to the Committee the Scottish Chambers of Commerce claimed that the present and proposed application of APD in the UK could make Scotland less competitive against rival nations and regions.

The SCC claimed the needs of Scottish industry and the Scottish air passengers were paramount and said:

“Domestic flights play a crucial role in supporting Scotland’s economy, so the industry has a different focus in Scotland than in the rest of the UK.  It is therefore appropriate that the Scottish Government is able to structure air passenger duty in a way that reflects the needs of Scottish passengers and secures the continuation of lifeline routes.”

Scotland relies on air transport for domestic travel to a greater extent than any other region of the United Kingdom.  Each year, 7 million passenger journeys are carried out between Scotland and London, with six million of these undertaken by air.

Ait Passenger Duty raises £157 million per year in Scotland and goes straight to the UK Treasury.