HIAL, testing and apprenticeships - Column 3rd March

The days are getting longer, and we are now in meteorological spring, and it has to be said there’s a sense that better months lie ahead of us.  Last week was another without any new COVID-19 cases in Shetland and the longer this continues the more confidence there is that restrictions can be eased. Children and young people are slowly getting back to school, and the vaccination delivery programme is going well.

While seeking to open up safely, and avoid any more damaging lockdowns, it’s essential we protect Shetland from further outbreaks. This week, though, we have seen variants of the virus being found in places like Aberdeen.

Testing at island entry points could add an extra layer of protection for Shetland from further importation of the virus. I make no declarations that this would be a solution on its own nor do I think it will be an easy task. I do believe, however, that it is an opportunity that must be pursued seriously and so it is welcome the Scottish Government have finally committed to exploring further.

Implementation will present any number of practical challenges and questions about the best approach to take.  That’s why it’s important that all stakeholders are involved to examine how proportionate and fit for purpose testing arrangements might work, and I welcome the opportunity this engagement presents.

The proposed centralisation of air traffic control by Highlands and Islands Airport Limited has taken a real focus over the last few weeks with the Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee looking at the proposals and the concerns that have been raised.

The plans by HIAL have been met with legitimate concerns. Despite this HIAL, a company wholly owned by Scottish Ministers, continues to plough forward with this project. Their own consultants have said that the project is both risky and costly, while a report last year from the Prospect Union estimated that £18 million will be taken away from island communities.

This project is bad for Shetland and must be paused. It has struck me, however, that from the appearances at committee of both the Managing Director, Inglis Lyon, and Transport Secretary Michael Matheson the strategy is one of putting their heads in the sand and not listening to the legitimate concerns of communities like Shetland. Last week I launched a petition to unite the voices of concerns and within a week we are heading towards 1000 signatures.

This is Scottish Apprenticeship week and is the time for all those in Scotland benefiting from apprenticeships to come together and share one another’s stories to encourage other young people to take one up. Last year I met some local apprentices and was impressed with the diverse opportunities that were available. Apprenticeships are gateways to livelihoods for so many people and hearing the stories of how people begun to love and have a passion for their jobs is an appropriate way to begin March as we head towards brighter days.

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