Locally, one of the main issues I hope to support this year is the development of Prestwick Airport and its surrounding aerospace cluster, both of which offer huge potential for growing the economic performance of Ayrshire. The devolution of Air Passenger Duty, which has been promised to the Scottish Parliament but not yet delivered, is one of the most effective ways such growth can be stimulated. Power over APD is essential if Prestwick Airport is to become a viable destination for airlines once again. Previously, it was an extremely successful gateway to this beautiful part of the country for thousands of tourists from the continent, many of whom came to Ayrshire to play golf, go walking, and experience our cultural heritage. As well as trying to secure the devolution of APD as soon as possible, I have also argued for a reduction in VAT on tourism to allow Scotland to compete more effectively with Ireland. As an independent country, Ireland is able to set its taxes at rates which provide the optimal fiscal position for their requirements and this gives a huge advantage over Scotland when it comes to competing for business and tourists, and growing her economy.
On a similar theme, I am also an enthusiastic supporter of Prestwick’s bid to become the UK’s first Spaceport and was successful in securing a backbench on the British Space Industry last week to mark the occasion of astronaut Tim Peake’s space walk on 15th January. The first Brit to undertake a spacewalk, Tim will be a great inspiration to many and I’m sure will help boost the development of the UK’s space industry, which has the potential to become a multi-billion pound industry primarily through launching modern miniaturised satellites. With a current turnover of 11.8 billion, growth potential to upwards of 40 billion it is a realistic proposition and not just fantasy; as such, it is important we do all we can to support the Prestwick bid. Although growth on this scale should support the development of several Spaceport sites, Prestwick has many advantageous over the other potential sites to be the very first given its long runway, air traffic support, and clear weather conditions, and I firmly believe if the decision on where to site it wasn’t a political one then Prestwick would be the frontrunner.
Sadly, a once common sight in Prestwick skies will now become less so with loss of the Sea King helicopters from the Gannet Search and Rescue facility. In December, I was extremely privileged to be one of the last visitors to Gannet SAR and was given a flight in one of the Sea Kings over my constituency. As well as having a great time, it gave me the opportunity to thank the staff and crews for all the patients they have transferred, and sailors and climbers they have rescued over the years. I hope some of you managed to see them on their farewell fly-past over Ayrshire last Thursday