British MP says Travel Tax will remain in effect unless damage to Caribbean stats proven
David Cameron’s coalition regime has chosen to ignore the representations made by Britain’s black voters and Caribbean Governments over Air Passenger Duty (APD).
Instead, Chancellor George Osborne, chose not to speak about the tax at all, leaving confirmation of a 2013 increase, and the discovery of another price hike to follow in 2014, to those prepared to struggle through the fine print.
Treasury documents accompanying the budget statement confirm that the tax in economy class flights to the Caribbean will increase from the present rate of £81 per person to £83 after April 1, 2013. From April 1, 2014, it will increase to £85.
In premium economy, or higher classes of travel, the tax goes up to £166 from April 1 this year to £170 after April 1, 2014.
The increase contrasts with the tax in the lowest band for short haul travel which remains at its present level of £13 for 2013 and 2014, giving preferential treatment to those who travel to Europe.
In a further example of how the coalition Government is prepared to modify the tax to suit its own political objectives, the tables indicate that Northern Ireland will remain an exception. From January 1, 2013 the rates for direct long-haul flights from Belfast were devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive, which then set its APD rate at nil. This means in theory, if passengers could fly directly to the Caribbean from Northern Ireland (there are no direct services), they would not incur any costs in respect of APD.
What seems to be happening is that the tax has become a huge moneymaking exercise for the Government irrespective of the economic consequences on regions like the Caribbean and those with ties to the region. Government papers reveal the duty is a tax first, with secondary benefits for the environment.
The Office for Budget Responsibility, the independent body that produces statistics on the UK’s economic growth, published alongside the budget a forecast that total APD revenues received by Government are expected to rise from £2.8 billion in 2012/13 to £3.8 billion in 2017/18.
Reaction from those in the travel industry in the UK to the year on year increases has been direct. In a joint statement, the chief executives of the parent company for British Airways, and of EasyJet, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic, said the planned rise in APD beggared belief. “We are very disappointed that the Government’s tax on flying, already the highest in the world, will increase yet again this year and next,” they said.
Simon Buck, the chief executive of the British Air Transport Association which represent all UK airlines, said that despite “incontrovertible evidence” that the tax was damaging Britain, “the missed opportunity to help kick start the economy is a shocking own goal.”
In the Caribbean, too, there has been anger.
The President of the Caribbean Hotels and Tourism Association, Richard Doumeng, said visitor numbers to all Caribbean destinations from the UK are falling.
“That there has been yet another increase in APD rates damages the Caribbean economy at just the moment when it needs more visitors to enable economic recovery”. The tax, he said, was particularly harmful to the ability of Caribbean people living in Britain wishing to return home. “The increase means that a family of four travelling to the region will soon be paying £340 in APD before the ticket cost and other surcharges are added”, he explained.
For their part, Caribbean Governments and High Commissions are now urging black voters in Britain to email or write to their MP asking them where they stand on the tax.