Friday, 24 June 2011

We’re (NOT) leaving on a jet plane

“SOMETIMES you couldn’t make it up”. Or so goes the old cliché. And certainly it would be a stretch to find a passage of fiction to match the alleged facts behind the Air Passenger Duty (APD) debacle.

It has been claimed that the Norn Iron Executive didn’t respond to the consultation over APD. Meanwhile Finance Minister Sammy Wilson did submit a response.

Now, for those who think that APD only really matters when you find out you’re budget airline fare isn’t as budget as you think, then please think again.

First, let’s rewind ourselves back to all the comments around the budget at the end of last year. We were told, to paraphrase an American President, “It’s the economy stupid.”

And one of the things that we have always been led to believe is that an air bridge – that is an air route – helps enormously in getting American investment into Norn Iron’s wee economy.

So, when our near neighbours in Dublin charge only a few Euro in tax for a transatlantic flight, here the only transatlantic flight has tax of £120 for a return flight.

Now, hold up your hands in despair! Our economy must be on the verge of collapse if Continental Airlines ends its Belfast to Newark route.

Well, no it won’t.

Dublin Airport is less than two hours drive from Belfast.

Try flying into a major hub airport in the US and getting to a city centre within two hours. Ain’t gonna happen.

So why all the fuss.

The Scottish Highlands and Islands has a sort of exemption. Well, we’re not exactly sure, but if any politician seriously thinks that equating NI plc with Tartan world lite is going to help Norn Iron then they might want to think again.

And, given the head of steam that’s building up around the corporation tax debate, local politicians may start clamouring for powers to set APD in Norn Iron.

Less tax raised in the region means a smaller hand out from Treasury each year. Can we afford tax varying powers, and if we can afford them, can we trust yer average MLA to do real economic maths without taking their socks off.

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