Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate
10 May 2018
I, too, congratulate Tavish Scott on securing the debate on an important issue for our island communities.
It added insult to injury that the process began with the announcement of the parking charges and then, when there was a public uproar, HIAL decided to consult on implementation.
The consultation is not on whether there should be parking charges—consultation on that has never taken place—but on implementation.
HIAL has said that it will look at ways to ensure that those travelling for health purposes will not have to pay the parking fee.
It is my understanding that that is part of the consultation process that is taking place.
It seems that HIAL is doing this on the hoof. It has not thought about it. It has not spoken to anyone, and there are unintended consequences that it now needs to deal with.
That is unacceptable.
Tavish Scott talked about the average cost to a family going on holiday if it had to park a car at the airport.
That does not take into account that people already have to pay more.
They have paid for their holiday, but they have to pay for flights to the mainland to access that holiday.
Sometimes they are paying twice as much already.
This charge will make a family holiday even less accessible, especially for people who are not on high wages.
There is also an economic impact.
Our islands suffer from depopulation, and we need to do something to reverse that.
Lately, people are living on the islands but working elsewhere.
Offshore workers are a common example, but people do that in other walks of life, too.
They want their family to have the quality of life that they can get from island living, but are forced to work elsewhere to sustain them.
The charge will add a cost to them as well as other people who need to travel for economic reasons, such as small and medium-sized businesses, the voluntary sector and many others.
It could put people off living on islands. It could be the difference between being able to stay or not.
People might have to consider moving to the mainland, because the charge will add to the additional costs that they are already facing with flights.
This is not a good idea. It also adds costs to the public sector, which is struggling in the islands because of austerity.
This will add a cost to them when their staff need to travel off the islands, and will be another detriment.
The charge does not take account of the distances and the spread-out communities that the airports serve.
We have many small islands that people need to drive from, such as Unst or Yell.
The distance from Lerwick to Sumburgh is huge, but coming from those islands makes it a very long journey, with no alternative but to drive.
Passengers from Leverburgh are 60 miles from Stornoway airport. Public transport is not available.
It is adding insult to injury that there is no public transport to get to the airport, and there is then a charge to park.
There is a wider issue with HIAL.
I will touch briefly on the centralisation of air traffic control.
That is detrimental to our island communities also.
HIAL did well in training local people who were rooted in their communities in air traffic control.
Now it is saying to those people who applied for the jobs and did the training that they will have to move.
That will have a knock-on impact on local economies. We cannot ignore that.
We have the Islands (Scotland) Bill.
This charge is being sneaked through before the bill becomes law.
If we are serious about island proofing, we need to stop this—and the other issues with HIAL—happening.
It is a publicly owned company that provides lifeline services.
These policies are letting down the communities that HIAL has been set up to serve and are certainly not contributing to lifeline services.