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Jamie Stone calls on Scottish Government to 'get a grip' and help avert strike at Highland airports

By Alan Hendry

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EasyJet aircraft at Inverness Airport, where HIAL has its head office. Picture: Gary Anthony
EasyJet aircraft at Inverness Airport, where HIAL has its head office. Picture: Gary Anthony

North MP Jamie Stone has urged the Scottish Government to "get a grip" and play its part in averting a one-day strike at airports in the Highlands and Islands.

He wants Holyrood ministers to work with Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) ahead of the action planned by members of the Prospect union on Thursday, July 29, over plans to centralise air traffic control to Inverness.

The Scottish Government’s Air Traffic Management 2030 Strategy (ATMS) would see jobs moved from regional air traffic control. Mr Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, accused the Scottish Government of repeatedly failing to listen to communities on the issue.

He is also unhappy that Wick's air traffic control would be downgraded to an aerodrome flight information service between January 2022 and December 2023.

"The Scottish Government should have stepped in long ago when HIAL's centralisation plans became clear," Mr Stone said. "Instead employees have been forced to consider strike action to save their jobs.

"The government has only itself to blame for this disruption. It has come about because of ministers' repeated failures to listen to local communities and representatives.

"SNP ministers must urgently get a grip on the implications of HIAL's proposals and put a stop to this persistent and damaging centralisation."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is disappointing the union is taking strike action, which will clearly impact passengers.

“We continue to encourage Prospect to engage with HIAL to ensure the successful implementation of the ATMS project.

“It remains the case that no alternative has been proposed which addresses the issues that the ATMS project aims to resolve.”

Next week's planned strike marks an escalation of action which has been ongoing since January.

Prospect members argue that HIAL's plans would remove high-value jobs and result in forced redundancies as people would be unwilling to relocate to the Highland capital.

The union says Scottish ministers have refused to meet communities involved to discuss the impact of the project.

Announcing the July 29 action, Prospect negotiator David Avery said last week: “Our members have been forced into this escalation of industrial action to protect the communities they serve. HIAL’s plan will remove high-value skilled jobs from economies that can ill-afford to lose them, having a substantial negative impact on those communities.

“Prospect members are not averse to change but it has to be done in a way that maintains jobs and skills in remote communities. HIAL needs to halt these plans now so our members can get on with their jobs.”

HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon said: “We are extremely disappointed to have received this formal notice without any prior intimation from Prospect.

“This action will inflict additional disruption and inconvenience on passengers at such a crucial time for the communities of the Highlands and Islands. It will also have an impact on the aviation sector which serves them and which is seeking to get back on its feet following the worst of the pandemic.

“We will work closely with our airline partners to keep disruption to a minimum and apologise for the undoubted inconvenience this action will cause."

HIAL is responsible for the management and operation of 11 airports – Barra, Benbecula, Campbeltown, Dundee, Inverness, Islay, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Sumburgh, Tiree and Wick John O’Groats.

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