The summer recess is normally a quiet period for MPs. Their offices slow down, they take holidays and politics seems slower paced. The extraordinary success of the Olympics may have taken the focus of the media off Westminster but that does not mean that MPs have gotten away with a quiet summer.
Today, A Fair Tax on Flying campaign announced that over the summer 100,000 people have emailed their MP about Air Passenger Duty (APD), the tax we pay for flying from UK airports. MPs offices, normally quiet, have been flooded with correspondence from voters about APD. One hundred thousand is the new must-hit figure for political campaigns and is enough to trigger a Commons debate.
As the campaign against Air Passenger Duty has gathered pace over the past couple of years, a common heard phrase from MPs was that APD wasn't an issue that had been raised by voters. "No one has come to my advice surgery to say they cannot go on holiday because of APD," as one Conservative MP put it to me just before the summer recess began. With 100,000 people emailing their MP in only eight weeks MPs won't be able to say this again when they return to Westminster from their summer holidays in a couple of weeks.
Every single MP in the land has received at least a dozen emails this summer about flight taxes. Our figures show that the PM received 200 emails from his voters in Witney. The Chancellor received 219 emails and Vince Cable was swamped with 459 emails from his constituents calling for a review. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the MP who represents Gatwick airport, Henry Smith, the MP for Crawley, received the most of anyone in the Commons with nearly a thousand of his voters sending a message via A Fair Tax on Flying website. All those who emailed Mr Smith will be pleased to know he supports a proper review. The 459 voters who sent emails to the Business Secretary may be less pleased as he has, so far, not backed the review call.
It's not just public pressure that's important here. The case for the UK increasing the world's most expensive flight taxes is becoming a weak one. The Government argues that it must increase this taxation to pay off the deficit. But as the economy further falters, attention must turn to reasons why the UK is not recovering when our competitors, like Germany, are growing. A fairer tax system is pointed to by supporters on Tory benches especially as one way to stimulate growth. I would go further; a fairer tax on flying would help stimulate not only growth in terms of tourism traffic, but due to transport's pivotal role within the economy could act as a catalyst for broader economic growth. Air travel is key to every sector of the economy and lower travel costs has a multiplier effect across the economy assisting growth.
A simple, transparent review into the impacts would show whether having the highest air tax in the world, some 400% greater than most EU countries, hinders inbound tourism, puts off business trips to the UK and makes our products less competitive. Emotion needs to be removed from this argument - we need a proper investigation based on economic fact.
The Government's challenge when MPs come back refreshed from their summer break is to show that they have a coherent and successful plan for growth. If a review into APD's impacts show that the economy would grow faster, with more people in work and more tourists from overseas spending their money in Britain if the tax was reduced then the Chancellor would be well advised to add APD reform to his 'to do' list. The Treasury will collect £2.8bn this year from APD, which is a princely sum not to be sniffed at. The question for the Treasury mandarins to consider is whether that figure could be higher if the economy were freed up from this strangling tax and able to compete on a fairer level with our international competitors. There is strong evidence to suggest it would be.
The MP who declared no one had ever lobbied him about APD has had 347 emails to answer so far this summer about APD. All of them ask for his support for one thing and one thing only - a review into APD. It's disappointing that the standard letters sent by MPs of all parties in response to the emails from their constituents interpret this as a 'jam tomorrow' tax cut. An evidence-based tax policy is something we should encourage the Government to move towards and a review into whether APD is making growth more elusive is surely a sound move. Along with myself more than 100,000 people agree on this. We just need one person to nod, over to you Mr Osborne.
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