Transport Hub is going to seize the opportunity at the party conferences to present its “case for change”, says Luke Pollard, head of public affairs at ABTA.
This year the Hub, which brings together industry groups across the transport spectrum, will focus on taxation and the cost of travel, as well as continuing a debate on investment in infrastructure projects.
“The priorities of this year’s hub are right on the issues about economic recovery,” says Pollard.
“If we want to recover as a nation we need to look at the way transport is priced and especially the way that transport is taxed and supported by our infrastructure.”
He sees conference as a real chance to present new ideas to the government, on the back of the poorer than expected economic figures.
“If the case is put with an evidence base and public support, the chance for changing government’s mind about this is really possible and that is what we will be doing at conference this year,” he says.
Coming into the conference season ABTA is riding high off of a joint campaign with those within the travel industry, ‘A fair tax on flying’, which is calling for the government to look again at Air Passenger Duty (APD).
At various times APD has been used as both a revenue raising and an environmental tax. However the government confirmed in the Budget over a year ago that at present its sole purpose is to raise money.
“It raises a lot of money, £2.8 billion this year, rising to £3.6 billion in 2016,” explains Pollard.
However, at a level 400 percent greater than the rest of Europe, ABTA believe APD is actually putting off trade and making business harder.
“Instead of raising money for the revenue it is putting off investment that could be helping to get the country out of recession.”
The issue has also hit a nerve with the public and a petition on the tax has hit the big political milestone with over 190,000 signatures.
Yet Pollard says the campaign is “not stopping there”.
They are calling on the government, specifically the Treasury to commission a report that looks at the impact of APD.
“The Treasury carried out a very technical consultation on the structure of APD last year, but it is the level of APD that is the real worry.
“We need to know if we froze, reduced or scrapped it what the effects would be on the UK economy,” Pollard says.
Before the summer recess 75 MPs had signed up to support the review.
Pollards says privately there is an large swell of support from MPs, particularly 2010 Tory MPs, who share ABTA’s concern and would like to see something done about it.
Aviation capacity is another issue that ABTA will be tackling head-on during the conferences.
Pollard maintains that not only are we unable to attract as many tourists, especially from emerging markets like China and India, because we charge much higher levels of taxation than France and Germany, but we also don’t have the aviation capacity to open up the new routes to those markets.
“France gets six times more Indian tourists than we do. Those tourists are spending money in their economy, and they are choosing to go to France or Germany than Britain,” states Pollard.
What would Pollard like to see from the newly reshuffled ministers during the conference season?
“We want to see a proactive stance on these issues. We have had good discussions so far on APD, but we want them to go further.
“Transport issues, whether rail or air, have never been higher on the agenda and we want to get a sense from the government as to where their priorities lie and how they feel about the request from industry,” he says.
Transport Hub is innovating this year, so as well as a series of fringe events covering the transport spectrum they will also be hosting a ‘big interview’ at each conference.
According to Pollard, feedback from delegates asked for an opportunity to put the leading figure from the government and Labour Party, “on the spot”.
“It is a very different format than we have had in the past. It is not an opportunity for them to make a speech, but it is a platform for industry representatives to ask questions that they have an interest in.
“This is what people asked us for last year and this is what we are going to give them this time,” he says.
Party conferences have received scrutiny as to their continuing value, this year, but Pollard maintains that “you would be a fool not to go to them”.
Why is the attendance at conference down?
“I think this is partly because of cost.
“Cost is one of the main reasons behind Transport Hub – it has made party conference more affordable for us,” he says.
Transport Hub is holding a series of events at each of the autumn party conferences, including a flagship ‘big interview’ with a key transport spokesperson from each party.