Shetland Times Column Friday 22nd April

Transport. “Why do you keep speaking about it?” I was surprised I had to explain that without good transport links to the Mainland and beyond islands cannot survive and thrive.

On Wednesday Scottish Liberal Democrat debates focused on two issues, the cost of living crisis, and ferries. Long Covid would have been one of the debates but as it was in the business timetable for the Scottish Government on Thursday, we took the opportunity to focus on other important matters.

As it turned out, the Long Covid debate was removed from Thursday’s business. The only time Long Covid has been debated in Parliament was last November, in Liberal Democrats member’s business time, a point I made at Decision Time on Tuesday when opposition members sought to challenge the change. The SNP/Green coalition voted against reinstating it.

Loganair is not immune to the global issues affecting airlines, and while weather delays are understood, there has been considerable frustration and inconvenience at other delayed and cancelled flights. Liam McArthur, MSP for Orkney, and I met with Loganair management last week, to find out what is being done to address the problems. It’s fair to say it was a robust conversation. Loganair has apologised for recent events, and Liam and I continue to monitor the situation.

I’ve heard from so many people who have experienced delays and the knock-on effect to their holidays, business meetings, life events and hospital appointments, and sometimes these have been months in the making.

Having recently met with NHS Shetland’s Patient Travel, I should make clear that there are no complaints about the arrangements made in Shetland. Where improvements are needed is in the communication between hospitals and airports for those patients travelling home.

I would be interested in hearing examples of patient and NHS travel issues in the past year or so, to see if there are any patterns or solutions that could come from first-hand accounts. Please get in contact by the usual means.

Wednesday’s debate on ferries was predominantly around the shambles on the West Coast ferry service and projected costs of at least £252m over eight years, without any new ferry so far in service. These lifeline services are in chaos with people unable to get home for days on end, while businesses are on their knees because they cannot get the stock or materials they need.

It allowed me the opportunity to highlight to Parliament the situation in Shetland, with freight capacity leaving little room for the expansion in the local economy. Shetland contributes significantly to Scotland’s economy, and with two new fish markets, ongoing construction projects, and the space business in Shetland, we need much more freight capacity now.

We know how important the tourism sector is to Shetland, with a value of around £30m to the economy pre-pandemic. Islanders also know it can be difficult to get a combined booking of cabin and car on Northlink.

So I will continue to speak about transport, and make no apology for it.

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