Shetland Times Column 14th January 2022

HIAL’s centralising remote tower procurement tender exercise has now been cancelled. We need modern, robust infrastructure and systems for safe lifeline air services but ignoring the findings of your own consultants, staff, and an island impact assessment, is not the way to successfully introduce such wide-ranging change.

If a lesson is needed on how to bring people along with you through a massive strategic change this will surely go down as an example of how not to do it.

Not only has this project cost the public purse millions of pounds, the most recent figure being £9m, it has damaged relations with staff and local communities. HIAL is a company wholly owned by Scottish Ministers, and throughout this process HIAL and the Scottish Government stubbornly refused to listen to those who had genuine concerns about the remote tower proposals.

I was one of many voices across the Highlands and Islands, from all parties and none, that expressed concerns about safety and digital connectivity for unmanned towers and the loss of skilled jobs. I hope that whatever comes next for future air traffic provision, HIAL will work positively and sincerely with staff and the communities it is there to serve. Refreshing HIAL’s board to ensure there is island representation on it would be one way to demonstrate sincerity and good faith.

There was a members’ debate in Holyrood on Tuesday evening on Endometriosis, a painful condition which affects 1.5 million women and girls in the UK, which is around the same number of women who have diabetes in the country. Speakers from across the chamber, with some like me joining in remotely, provided testimony about how debilitating this condition can be, while raising awareness of a condition that is much more than “painful periods”.

The average time for a diagnosis is over eight years. Endometriosis affects relationships and work, and infertility levels are high too.

Girls’ education can also be impacted. For those who miss a week from school every month, staying at home curled up in agony, it doesn’t take long to fall behind in their schoolwork and ultimately that has knock-on effect on their life opportunities. More understanding and support is needed in school settings as well as for women in the workplace.

The Scottish Government’s Women’s Health Plan aims to reduce the diagnosis time to 12 months by the end of this parliamentary session. It’s an ambitious target but for the sake of those who live with this painful condition I hope it is met.

The network of the North Highland Group of Endometriosis UK includes Shetland and they can offer support and advice for sufferers.  They can be contacted at [email protected]

Finally, at the RAINE (Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment) committee on Wednesday, members had the opportunity to question the Cabinet Secretary about her portfolio budget allocations. I took the opportunity to ask about the Scottish Government's plans on its controversial Islands Bond scheme and reductions in HIE's budget.

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