Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Government looks to aviation industry to pay for UK border mess

After recent queues at Heathrow Airport the government has backed a plan which would see airlines paying higher landing fees in order to sort out the mess caused by cutting 1,900 agency staff since 2010. In response to the queues Immigration Minister Damian Green has blamed torrential rainfall over the weekend for the queues and has vowed that there will be no problems during The Olympics. Commenting on the issue, Green said: ‘Next month we will have a completely new rostering system, which will make us more flexible. Also, for the Olympic period, we are guaranteeing that there will be at peak times full manning across the board."

Levies from the airline industry currently generate £1bn per year and some of this revenue is spent on equipment at the border such as at e-passport gates. An additional charge would see airlines in effect paying for extra Border Force staff.

The government has plans to reduce the Border Force's headcount by 18% by 2015 compared with 2010 levels and the reduction in staff numbers has caused long queues due to the simple equation of not enough staff being able to deal with a full long-haul flight arriving into Heathrow.

David Cameron has vowed to add an extra 80 Border Force staff in order to ease the queues yet this is unlikely to go far enough as stressed by Willie Walsh on Channel 4 News. Yet despite Walsh's criticisms he did state that he would be open to making a contribution towards the cost of operating UK Borders at Heathrow. However, despite being open to making a contribution towards the cost of border control, Walsh also admitted that any additional levy would be likely to be passed on to the passenger when booking tickets.

Willie Walsh's stance was particularly disappointing today as over the last few months he has campaigned for a reduction in Air Passenger Duty as it is proving to be prohibitive to business growth. Today he has agreed that he would be willing to agree to an additional tax on top of the most taxed air tickets in the world in the knowledge that he would not really be paying anything extra – his customers would. Revenue from Air Passenger Duty is currently £2.5bn per year and this should provide sufficient funding for staff that gets paid a median wage in order to do an important job at Border Control.