Back at Westminster after a hugely inspiring SNP Conference – the biggest ever in the history of the Party – my focus was very much on our local tourist economy.
On Tuesday, I spoke in the Westminster Hall debate on Air Passenger Duty (APD) and, specifically, the detrimental effect it has on Prestwick Airport. Immediately after the debate was the first meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Tourist Economy which, in particular, seeks a reduction in VAT on Tourism and Hospitality.
We compete heavily for tourist business with the Republic of Ireland which has got rid of APD completely and reduced the VAT on Tourism and Hospitality to 9%, while our tourist businesses pay 20%. This makes a huge difference in the flight, hotel, meal and entertainment costs between the two destinations.
When I first moved to Ayrshire, Prestwick was well connected to cities in continental Europe, there were still flights to Canada and our tourist industry was thriving. Central Europeans and Scandinavians in particular were coming to play golf and enjoy our beautiful coastline as well as our history and culture.
APD was increased markedly in the mid-2000s and the number and destination of flights subsequently reduced; there are now only a few flights which take Scots away to tourist destinations rather than bringing visitors to Ayrshire. We are not even connected to London so every week, as I do, business travellers have to fly from Glasgow. APD is damaging local business and killing our tourism industry.
Businesses and organisations across the region are working hard to make Ayrshire an attractive place for holiday makers who contribute to our economy. However, the combination of high VAT and APD make it less attractive by increasing both the cost of getting here and the price of hospitality and entertainment once they are here.
Earlier this year, Edinburgh Airport produced a report on the impact of reduced APD which showed that, long-term, Prestwick Airport would be one of the biggest gainers. We hope that, unlike after the Calman Commission, APD will actually be devolved this time and the Scottish Government can go ahead with its planned reduction. As part of the APPG on the Tourist Economy, I will also continue to argue for a reduction of VAT. Tourism is one of the few industries that exist in rural areas and by reducing VAT the UK Government could assist rural economies across the UK.