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Highlands and Islands Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron has warned the future of island and remote communities across the Highlands and Islands is being put at risk by uncertainty over vital transport links.
Mr Cameron spoke after the air traffic controllers’ union announced another strike for June 12 which will affect HIAL airports in the Western Isles, Orkney, Shetland and Inverness.
The news follows widespread reports of passengers being unable to book on to ferry services due to over-capacity, and delays in introducing new ferries into service.
Mr Cameron said: ‘This catalogue of failures is entirely the responsibility of Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP government. They have been in power for 12 years and cannot blame anyone else.
‘Everywhere you look, whether it is the town centre ferry service to Dunoon, insufficient capacity on ferries to and from the Western Isles, or the failure to resolve the HIAL dispute, the story is the same: a failure to plan ahead or, when trouble breaks out, a failure to get a grip.’
Mr Cameron said he feared for the future of communities dependent on the failing transport links.
‘The SNP government down in Edinburgh don’t seem to understand that our communities are utterly dependent on reliable transport infrastructure. When the ferry or plane doesn’t run, there is no alternative route.
‘If local businesses lose confidence, they will either fail to invest or they will relocate. And we will find it even more difficult to attract younger, economically active people to live in our remote communities which are already threatened by population decline.’
However, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has stepped in to defend the air traffic controllers.
‘I met with union representatives of Prospect on May 29 in parliament and I discovered that HIAL air traffic controllers in Inverness are paid 12 per cent less than those in Aberdeen, 33 per cent less than those in Edinburgh and 100 per cent less than those in Heathrow,’ she said.
‘The pay gap is even wider for air traffic controllers working on the islands. How is this fair when they have the exact same training as their counterparts elsewhere?
‘Members of Prospect are being made to look like their request is unreasonable when, in fact, if the rates of inflation are compared to the air traffic controllers’ pay increases over the past 10 years, the requested pay increase would bring their wages in line with inflation.
‘I don’t think this is an unreasonable request especially as their jobs are due to disappear or they will be forced to move. I can understand completely why they are no longer willing to settle for lower pay.
‘The Scottish Government should work out how to resolve this, whether that be paying air traffic controllers more or ending the plans to centralise services.’
In the background are HIAL’s plans for its seven airports to have their air traffic controlled remotely from a new digital tower based in Inverness. The seven airports affected are Sumburgh, Dundee, Inverness, Wick, John O’Groats, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Benbecula.
‘With the plans to centralise air traffic control from the Highlands and Islands to Inverness, Prospect have had enough and want their pay to reflect what others are paid in the country,’ added Ms Grant.