Letter from Westminster

So Lerwick’s Up-Helly-A’ has been and gone for another year. Congratulations to Guizer Jarl Rae Simpson and his family and squad on a first rate spectacle – especially that bill head and these banners!

When I was in the Jarl’s Squad in 2007 I was amazed by the amount of work that went into making the whole show look so effortless but these took things to another level.

I eventually left the Clickimin Centre at 3.30am on Wednesday morning after the Jarl’s Squad had visited and a few more willows had been stripped and Boston Two-Steps had been danced. The reason for the unsociably early departure was that I was then to be on the plane to Orkney at 7.40am. I did not therefore have much more than two hours sleep before getting up to head off to Sumburgh.

I was not therefore perhaps in the best of humours when I attended the Airport Users’ Consultative Com-mittee to discuss with HIAL chief executive Inglis Lyon the question of the proposed car park charges at Kirkwall Airport. There was sadly not much in the meeting which would improve my mood. The pro-posals are currently for Kirkwall but they claim they will be coming to Shetland and the Western Isles next.

HIAL has a gap to plug in its budget and car parking charges are going to be one of the plugs. It will take, they reckon, about £100,000 a year out of Orkney. The alternative would be to increase landing charges for Loganair and others using the airport which would then doubtless be passed on in increased ticket costs.

I cannot pretend to agree with the way that HIAL is dealing with this and as consultations go this has the look of one that is a consultation about “how” it is going to happen and not “if”. I do, however, have a measure of sympathy for the position that the company finds itself in and I fear that they will not be the last public sector organisation to find themselves in this sort of fix.

As Mr Lyon told us last week, HIAL has had its budget slashed by the Scottish Government. It is the SNP transport minister, Stewart Stevenson, who has given he green light to go ahead with imposing a charging system here.

So why is Mr Stevenson so keen? He too has holes to fill in his budget. I could list the unaffordable gim-micks. The Road Equivalent Tariff “pilot” scheme in the Western Isles is one that springs readily to mind. These decisions were doubtless very popular with those who benefited from them but the real cost is only now becoming apparent.

The idea is not a new one. They tried to get it past Tavish Scott when he was transport minister in the last government. He had a better understanding of the realities of island life than Mr Stevenson and sent the HIAL board off with a flea in their collective ear. This time, I fear, we must rely on our own efforts rather than understanding from the minister.

Alastair Carmichael


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