I am currently studying for a Masters in Sustainable Development Advocacy, which is awarded through Worcester University, and based in Holme Lacy, South Herefordshire. My placement at Birmingham FOE is the third of four I will complete for the course and aims to provide first-hand experience of how a media and campaigning group works to influence sustainable development.
One of which, in the Birmingham Post, told of how many West Midlands councillors were backing plans to bring the extension of the runway at Birmingham Airport forward. They claimed that because the economic impact with reference to tourism and employment would be so considerable, it would be financially beneficial to the region to extend as soon as possible.
However, research shows that exactly the opposite is true. Many services from the airport serve tourist destinations and although this enables tourists from abroad to visit the region, UK tourists spend much more abroad than foreign tourists spend in the UK. This ‘tourism deficit’ is currently £17 billion per year and is growing, fuelled by the growth in cheap flights (Office of National Statistics 2003 figures, Guardian report 17.12.2004). The inbound tourism and business that the airport encourages must also be balanced against the yearly £300 bill for taxpayers to cover the aviation industry’s effective subsidy (see below).
At the time of writing we are planning a Day of Action where we will present members of the public with a receipt for this £300 which will hopefully be a good photo opportunity for the media too. It requires action at national, EU and international level to remove these tax exemptions that drive aviation growth.
The Midlands councillors were also in support of the airport expansion for the jobs it would create. It would certainly provide some employment but many of these jobs will be seasonal, low-paid or on anti-social shift patterns. Furthermore, the low-cost airline business model requires minimisation of employment by adopting practices such as web-based booking.
More importantly than any of this however is the effect airport expansion will have on climate change. It is incredulous that Gordon Brown, by supporting aviation growth in the Budget on March 22nd will demonstrate complete incompatibility with the Government’s targets to cut carbon emissions by 60% by 2050. Aviation is the fastest growing source of climate changing gases and if its emissions continue to grow at the current rate it will be impossible for the 60% target to be met.
In early March, the Birmingham Post printed a letter to such effect from BFOE and I am hoping to get increased coverage in the media over the next few weeks with the close of the Master Plan Consultation and our Day of Action.
So, how is the Effective Subsidy Calculated?
No tax on fuel – the Treasury stated in 2002 that if airlines paid duty on aviation fuel at the same rate as that paid on petrol this would raise £5.7 billion a year.
Airlines pay very little VAT, nor is there any VAT on airline tickets. Charging VAT on all flights leaving UK airports would raise around £4 billion a year.
Duty free on flights outside Europe costs the Government around £0.4 billion a year
Air Passenger Duty – this brings in £0.9 billion a year
– No tax on fuel: £5.7 billion
– Virtually no VAT: £4.0 billion
– Duty free: £0.4 billion
– Deduct Air Passenger Duty: £0.9 billion
= £9.2 billion
– Calculation of cost to taxpayer:
– £9.2 billion effective subsidy divided by number of taxpayers (29 million) = £300