Withdrawal of the Air Discount Scheme for business travel will damage the Western Isles economy and could lead airlines to offer less flights, warned three island council leaders this week.
Angus Campbell, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar; Stephen Hagan, Convener to Orkney Islands Council, and Josie Simpson, Leader of Shetland Islands Council have united against the Scottish Government’s decision to restrict the ADS scheme to private travel.
In a letter to Scottish Ministers, the three councils describe the benefits the scheme brought to the wider community, both socially and for business, but said they were ‘dismayed’ that this had been withdrawn in part.
They said: “In difficult economic circumstances, with our businesses struggling to maintain a foothold in their markets, the impact of this move will be at best damaging, and at worst potentially ruinous.
“Our hard pressed third sector and fledgling social enterprises will be knocked back, while the lack of any compensation to public sector budgets will leave us with no choice but to reduce markedly our degree of interaction with partner agencies and the Scottish Government.
“There is a significant risk that reduced frequency of business travel will force our local airlines to downgrade the services they are able to offer, with a negative impact on all potential air passengers.”
They further point out that island councils have benefited from ADS, saving money but allowing them to maintain connectivity with mainland partners.
“We have been pro-active in promoting the use of video-conferencing both locally and with our partner agencies on the mainland,” they stated. “But it is important that remote areas do not become isolated, and there is sometimes no substitute for a face-to-face meeting.”
The councils are urging the Scottish Government to re-think the situation to restrict the scope of ADS. They are calling for a meeting between the councils and the Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, Alex Neil MSP, and Minister for Housing and Transport, Keith Brown MSP.