Thursday, 28 June 2012

Air Passenger Duty: A Fair Tax On Flying?

Time for a break from writing about writing. One particularly iniquitous stealth tax in the UK is Air Passenger Duty, the levy on passengers flying from a UK airport. What was once an irritating fleabite has become a festering wound for already hard pressed travellers, riddled with anomalies that hit flights to Caribbean islands – and in turn their tourist revenue - harder than flights to the USA. And the pretence that it was a necessary weapon in the fight against climate change (what, when a jet still takes off on schedule regardless of whether it is nearly full or nearly empty?) has long given way to the admission that it is a revenue raising measure, pure and simple, alongside other so-called sin taxes.

So I was only too pleased to follow the suggestion from A Fair Tax On Flying, to complete their standard form email for despatch to my local MP by way of protest. In the space for additional comments, I mentioned the Caribbean anomaly, and the fact that if long haul flyers hopped over to Amsterdam, Paris or Frankfurt for the bulk of their onward journey, their very understandable personal saving on APD would cause major damage to the UK aviation industry. (The latter point is not surprisingly recognised by the Dutch, who charge no APD.)

I suppose that I should not have expected anything more than a standard form response to a standard form email, but this one from my local MP (whose name I will withhold) really took the biscuit: -

“Thank you for contacting me about Air Passenger Duty.

“The Government inherited the highest structural budget deficit of any major economy in the world and the highest deficit in our peacetime history. The UK is paying over £120 million every day on debt interest payments alone. APD makes an important contribution to reducing the nation’s deficit and this must be taken into account.

“Last year the Government launched a consultation on APD to improve the fairness and efficiency of the system. Ministers recognise the importance of the aviation industry which is why the Budget in 2011 announced APD would be frozen for 2011-2 and the rise would take place this April instead. I do of course recognise the impact this tax has on the cost of family holidays, especially at a time when household spending is being stretched.

“To ensure fairness, Ministers have closed a loophole so that from April 2013, business jet passengers will also have to pay this tax.

“The reduction in the deficit, combined with the low interest rates this Government has secured, means that the UK is saving £36 billion in debt interest payments compared to our predecessors.

“Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.”

In other words, the four paragraphs of any substance comprised (a) a plain admission that APD is a revenue raising measure, oblivious to the collateral damage it causes (b) a plea for credit for not doing wrong (via another increase) just yet (c) the citation of a loophole closure that has no impact on the burden of the average leisure traveller (d) a sweeping general plea for credit for deficit reduction. No recognition of the underlying iniquity of APD. And not a word of response to my specific issues.

I suppose I should at least be thankful that I was not reminded that we’re all in this together.

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