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Discount scheme to drop business travel

SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott has called on island businesses to join his protest against government plans to cut them out of the Air Discount Scheme (ADS).

Mr Scott introduced the ADS when he was Scottish transport minister in May 2006, giving people in Scotland’s most remote communities a 40 per cent discount on air fares within the country.

As part of its search for savings, the SNP government has been examining the scheme and now plans to cut support from £10.1 million to £8.7 million in the next financial year.

The ADS has European Commission approval until March next year. If that approval is extended the government has pledged to maintain the scheme for all but “business related travel claims”.

Mr Scott has asked new transport minister Keith Brown to justify this move, to explain how it will work and reveal whether the government has assessed its impact on island businesses.

“The cost of flying to and from Shetland is high and is a real tax on island life. That is why I introduced the ADS when I was transport minister and why the funding available was directed through the ADS system to island residents for their personal and business travel,” Mr Scott said.

“I am asking the government how the proposed cut can be justified, and how it will work in practice.

“For a start, many Shetlanders combine business and personal trips. If someone goes south for a business meeting in Aberdeen but also does some personal shopping on Union Street, will they be entitled to the ADS discount?

“The proposal is not just unfair, it is unworkable. I want the Scottish government to reverse these ill-considered proposals, and also want Shetland businesses to tell the transport minister exactly what they think of this plan.”

Last night a spokeswoman for Transport Scotland said: “The scheme is designed to facilitate a better level of social inclusion for individuals in the eligible areas by reducing the high cost of air fares.

“The scheme is not intended to subsidise the business travel budgets of public and private sector employers, and ministers have decided that the use of public funds for this purpose will not be part of the scheme going forward.”