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MP wants taxpayers to foot bill for flights

MP Angus MacNeil
MP Angus MacNeil

The Scottish Government is being urged to use taxpayers’ money to fund Benbecula’s air service to keep it in the air.

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil is calling on the Scottish Government to instigate a study on the introduction of a Public Service Obligation on the route.

PSOs are used to maintain scheduled air services on routes which are vital for the economic development of the region they serve.

But Transport Minister Humza Yousaf has said that there are no plans to introduce a PSO on the Benbecula to Glasgow air service.

However, the SNP’s Mr MacNeil has argued the service is vital for local residents and urges the minister to reconsider so that prices stay reasonable.

He and local councillors are calling on the transport minister to reconsider and pointed out the route is usually less than a third full – and often the few passengers are public servants.

He said: “There is a PSO on the Barra air service and there is competition on the Stornoway air service and this is good news. However, Benbecula has neither and I believe that there is a case for a PSO on the Benbecula to Glasgow air service which would ensure that airfares and service levels as well as perhaps scheduling are reasonable for the Uist community.”

“I am asking the minister to revisit this issue and that he starts a study on a PSO for this route, on the basis that the commercial operator cannot and does not run a full weekly service year-round with some afternoons in winter not having a service, and the amount of public money already used on the route in the air discount scheme.”

Mr MacNeil’s comments were echoed by Councillor Iain MacNeil, who said the proposal has come at the right time.

He said: “I welcome the support of our MP in one of a number of priorities identified by Uist and Barra Councillors.

“I was disappointed when the initial approach to the minister was turned down but had agreed to continue making a case for a PSO, so this intervention by Mr MacNeil is timely and welcome.”

Councillor Calum MacMillan added:”The fare paying passengers travelling to and from Uist are being disadvantaged by the current system. The occupancy rate is currently less than 30% which means that 70% of the total available seats on this service could be used for free. The fares of the 30% are generally paid for by government or by government agencies which means that the fares are set on a non-competitive basis which inflates the fares charged to non-government paid fares.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “It remains the case that, given the commercial nature of the current service, we have no plans to impose a Public Service Obligation (PSO) on the Benbecula to Glasgow service.

“We would only consider a PSO if the existing commercial air service ceased to operate and an alternative operator could not be found to serve the route on a commercial basis.

“We recognise that high fares are an issue in the Highlands and Islands and we are committed to continuing to address this through the Air Discount Scheme with a discount that will remain at 50%.”

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