Shetland Times Column 11th February 2022

Transport. It’s the biggest issue for us all whether it’s travelling within Shetland or to the Mainland. Links must be robust and reliable for the lives we lead today. It impacts every aspect of life whether its accessing hospital appointments, going to school or exporting salmon to the world.

The ‘Tunnel Vision’ online event Alistair Carmichael and I held last Saturday demonstrated the level of interest in the conversation on fixed links from people across Shetland. We heard about the practicalities and costs of tunnelling, as well as the experience in Faroe.

The contributions from young people were thoughtful and well received. They, after all, will be the ones most affected by any decisions taken now on future transport links so we should be focusing on future-proofing travel to ensure it is fit for the next 40 or 50 years.

Some people believe that too much time has already been spent talking about tunnels, and not enough action or progress has been made. The feasibility and business case has to be made for tunnels, but we need ferries to run a reliable service in the meantime and some have to be replaced. 

Last week I sponsored a meeting in Parliament with Steven Coutts and Maggie Sandison from Shetland Islands Council. It was good to have them outlining the Council’s vision through their policy paper, ‘It’s all happening in Shetland’, to other MSPs and highlighting Shetland’s contribution to Scotland and the UK.

Meantime I’ve been raising the question of extending the free bus travel for under-22s to include free ferry fares. The previous Transport Minister repeatedly told me ferries are a matter for the local authority, but when I questioned the new minister I received a more constructive response. It remains to be seen, however, if progress can be made. I also managed to raise the issue when responding to a ministerial statement about Scotrail!

On Tuesday, a debate was brought forward by my colleague and party leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, about the BBC and proposals for its future funding. The public service broadcaster is a trusted institution and something that belongs to us all – it informs, educates and entertains us. I spoke about the value and contribution of local radio stations. BBC Radio Shetland and Radio Orkney have been with us in the Northern Isles for nearly 45 years and are well respected for their impartial coverage of island events.

It was a well-attended debate and some members waxed lyrical about programmes of days gone by.  But in what could have been an episode straight out of Dad’s Army (or the Thick of It!) was the government’s response to poor air quality in schools and the now infamous “here’s £300k to saw the bottom off classroom doors”. Not surprisingly, parents as well as Scottish Fire and Rescue Services raised concerns about what this meant for fire doors in schools. It would be laughable if the issue of continued mask-wearing and poor air quality in class wasn’t so serious.

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