SNP has "no clue" what effect cutting Air Passenger Duty will have, says Patrick Harvie
The Finance Committee session came after Virgin Trains warned that axing APD could see Edinburgh to London rail journeys fall by around a third
Flight - Press Association
The SNP’s planned cut to Air Passenger Duty has come under fire from opposition parties, amid claims it has “no clue” what effect the move will have on either the environment or the budget.
With the Finance Committee taking evidence on the SNP’s plans cut APD, Green MSP Patrick Harvie claimed the move was taking place without any robust analysis behind it, while Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur accused the party of taking its “marching orders from the aviation industry”.
Under the SNP’s plans, APD will be replaced by Air Departure Tax, set at half the current rate, with the party aiming to abolish the tax altogether at some point in the future.
The Finance Committee session came after Virgin Trains warned that axing APD could see Edinburgh to London rail journeys fall by around a third.
Scottish Labour transport spokesperson Neil Bibby said: “Cutting Air Passenger Duty won’t make Scotland fairer or greener. It would be the wrong move at the wrong time.
“We should be doing all we can to boost sustainable travel, encouraging people to travel on train where possible for short domestic journeys. The SNP should listen to this warning from Virgin Trains and should be working to make rail travel more affordable.
“Across Scotland our schools, NHS and police force are facing hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts - it shouldn't be the SNP Government's priority to make a business class flight cheaper.”
EasyJet today reported it had transported 6.4m passengers to and from Scotland in 2016 – an 11 per cent rise compared to 2015, and a 30 per cent rise compared to five years ago.
Sophie Dekkers, UK Director for EasyJet, said the tax cut could see the operator’s flight numbers rise by around a third.
But Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar questioned claims the cut would see rail travel fall, telling the committee “I don't recognise where the numbers come from, or how that's plausible.”
He said: "With the exception of Norway, which has only just recently announced an increase in this tax, every other country has gone in the opposite direction. We'll still be significantly more expensive than just about every other country. In fact, we'll still be the most expensive (in Europe) even if we halved it across the board."
Harvie said: “It’s entirely clear that the Scottish Government has no clue about the economic impact from its policy, the impact on the Scottish budget, or the environmental impact. Not only that, they appear to have no policy on how much they think aviation emissions can be allowed to grow in the future.
“It should be no surprise that the aviation industry, motivated by its own profits, is relying on flimsy and out of date research to argue for a big tax break. But it would be a complete failure of sense if the Scottish Parliament was to pass this legislation in the absence of a robust analysis of the impact.”
McArthur said: “The SNP are taking their APD marching orders from the aviation industry. They have consistently relied on evidence compiled for airlines and taken the advice of a stakeholder group made up almost entirely of industry representatives. Even Edinburgh Airport admitted today that ‘full and frank analysis’ on cutting APD has been ‘missing for some time’.”
In a written submission to parliament, Virgin said: “Virgin Trains' own initial modelling suggests that as much as a third of the southbound Edinburgh to London rail market could be lost to air if APD were abolished on this route and the tax reduction was passed on in reduced fares.
“This would represent a negative modal shift, lead to a significant increase in carbon emissions, reduce funds available to government through franchise payments and undermine the long-term growth of the cross-border rail market and business case for developing a high-speed rail network to Scotland.”
In June parliament voted to replace Air Passenger Duty with a new Air Departure Tax, which is expected to be substantially lower
The bill will see Air Passenger Duty, devolved to Scotland as part of the 2016 Scotland Act, replaced by an Air Departure Tax from April 2018, set at half the current rate
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