Talking to St Lucia minister of tourism Allen Chastenet yesterday I was struck by just how big an issue APD is, or should be, but not just for him and the Caribbean people he represents.
In times of austerity measures, NHS reform and public sector job losses and pension changes it’s perhaps understandable that the topic isn’t exactly leading the news bulletins or provoking impassioned debate on Newsnight.
But this isn’t just about affluent people who like escaping the UK for their couple of weeks in the sun paying a few pounds more for the privilege. The APD debate actually says a lot about this country’s attitude towards those parts of the world with which we have a shared history and heritage.
We may not be as proud of our past as we once were, but we still have friends right across the globe who still view the UK as a sort of mother country. And they struggle to understand why we would seemingly seek to impose a prohibitive charge on people wanting to travel between here and their place of origin.
Of course any tax, no matter how it is configured, causes anomalies and apparent injustices. In APD’s case, ignoring the nonsense of the way it is determined by distance to capital cities, it is the seemingly arbitrary way the distance boundaries determine what you pay.
Distance is a perfectly neat and objective scale on which to base the tax , but you can imagine, in different circumstances, APD being levied according to other criteria linked to our cultural and trade connections with other countries.
We in the UK, with our pioneering, globe-trotting past, ought to understand that curtailing through tax the movement of people between countries, no matter how far away they are, can be a barrier to progress and prosperity.
APD might be an easy tax to collect and its impact might be insulated from ordinary folk by airlines and hoteliers absorbing the pain, but in the long term it could be hugely damaging, not just for those Caribbean countries so reliant on tourism but to the UK itself.
Remember, everyone who flies to these shores has to pay on departure, so APD is as much a tax on our inbound travel industry as it is on outbound – and the government has supposedly big ambitions for tourism.
The Caribbean Tourist Organisation describes APD as like a cancer slowly eating away at the one industry the region it represents is most reliant on. It believes the UK coalition government has started to accept its argument and that ultimately once this country’s finances are back on an even keel APD will be scrapped.
In the mean time, the best we can hope for is for a fair resolution to the current reform.
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