An increase in the Scottish Government’s Air Discount Scheme [ADS] – which offers a significant discount on air fares for travellers from remote communities – comes into effect from today, 1st January 2016.
The discount will increase from 40% to 50%. 50% is the maximum allowed under the terms of the scheme; and applies to tickets booked on or after 1st January 2016.
This increase comes after Transport and Islands Minister, Derek Mackay, announced earlier this year that the scheme was being extended to 2019.
Mr Mackay says: ‘The Air Discount Scheme makes a real difference to residents of our remote communities, giving people access to significantly cheaper air fares.
‘These services are lifeline connections to many of these communities, so I’m very pleased that we can help them further by increasing the ADS.
‘It’s also important to remember that the ADS is open to students who study away from home and volunteers and employees of third sector organisations.
‘As Minister for Transport and Islands, I’ve heard a lot about the issue of high air fares in the Highlands and Islands over the past year. This increase tackles the issue directly and I hope eligible residents take full advantage of the scheme.
‘This increase, as well as the extension of the ADS until 2019, underlines the Scottish Government’s commitment to support the communities of the Highlands and Islands.’
It does indeed – but it does not underline the Scottish Government’s grasp of its own territory; nor does it underline – yet – its commitment to supporting in this way anything like all of its needy remote communities.
The exclusion of Kintyre
The Air Discount Scheme now offers a 50% discount on core air fares on eligible routes for residents of the following places: Caithness and North West Sutherland, Colonsay, Islay, Jura, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.
But hang on – this is very simplistic.
The Kintyre peninsula in Argyll may look less remote than Caithness or North West Sutherland – but is it? And remote from what?
If one looks at the nearest University city to a remote community, the AA journey planner gives the following telling drive times:
- Wick [North East Caithness] – Inverness: 2h 15m.
- Kinlochbervie [North West Sutherland] – Inverness: 2h 28m.
- Campbeltown [Mull of Kintyre] – Glasgow: 3h 13m.
- Southend [Mull of Kintyre] – Glasgow: 3h 30m
And Campbeltown has a HIAL airport serving the Kintyre peninsula.
There is no defensible reason why this Air Discount Scheme should not include rather than exclude Kintyre; and it has to be extended to those who are eligible for it there, which – as the Minister points out above, include not only residents but ‘students who study away from home and volunteers and employees of third sector organisations’.
This is a serious support for sustainable remote rural communities – and the Kintyre peninsula qualifies big time.
We are sure that this is very much an issue that Argyll & Bute’s MSP, Michael Russell, would relish delivering for Kintyre. The exclusion will be born – not from any desire to do down Kintyre but from the sheer cluelessness every central government everywhere demonstrates about its own perceived periphery.
The issue of ever rising spending and no rise in revenue to pay for it
Beyond the issue of making sure that all eligible communities get the same leg-up from state subsidy support systems, there is another issue here.
This is yet another free giveaway from the Scottish Government. Road Equivalent Tariff on ferry fares has just been introduced across the west coast network – making astonishingly cheap ferry fares for islanders and visitors alike.
There has just been a couple of days of major press publicity on the serious concerns the First Minister’s Special Adviser on tackling poverty, the academic Naomi Eisenstadt, has expressed on the Scottish Government’s fast rising welfare costs – against no accompanying increase in the revenues to pay for them.
Everyone knows that the SNP Scottish Government is serially spending serious money to create a feel-good bubble to win votes in the coming 2016 Scottish Election -with no care for the consequences of this increasingly unstable spending habit.
Adding an increase from 40% – already a substantial discount on highland air fares – to 50% seems as irresponsibly unnecessary a subsidy as universalising RET on ferry fares on the west coast – making fares for short passages very cheap; while, at the same time discriminating totally against the Northern Isles which, with Shetland 100 miles offshore and Orkney 10 miles, have no RET discounts on ferry fares.
This is a government that is showing little, if any, capability in strategic financial management for any reason other than political gain; and no courage whatsoever in raising taxes to pay for its out-of-control spending.
Much of this spending – for example, like the Help to Buy housing scheme which was energetically taken up by couples with a combined income of £80k to £100k and like the universal free bus passes for pensioners – is said by the government’s own experts, including Ms Eisenstadt,to be going to subsidise the already well off rather than assisting and supporting intelligently those struggling with poverty – many of whom are in work.