Prime Minister Reaffirms Commitment To Scilly

Andrew George, MP

David Cameron reaffirmed the government’s commitment to Scilly in Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, yesterday.

It followed a request for help by islands’ MP Andrew George, two months after the helicopter service ended.

Mr George told the PM that there had been significant challenges to islanders, medical services and the economy of the islands since BIH ended flights. The MP said that this was Scilly’s, “hour of desperate need.”

But the PM stopped short of offering a guarantee of support.

Mr Cameron shares Transport Minister Norman Baker’s view that the commercial sector should be left to sort out travel services but the government will keep an eye on what develops.

It’s estimated that Land’s End airport was, or will be, shut on 14 days and partially closed for another 6 between the start of November and Christmas Eve, according to figures from the National Air Traffic Service.

Andrew George says the Steamship Company are doing the best that they can, but the disruption underlines the need for a rotary service.

He remains hopeful that a new helicopter operator will emerge and says “all the building blocks are there.” He admits it is a long shot but added that he’s not one, “to throw in the towel.”

A rotary service has to be commercially viable, he says, and there’s no point approaching any Minister expecting ongoing subsidy, but government can help by underwriting the first few years’ operation or financing the start-up.

This could ‘dovetail’ with a search and rescue operation based in Penzance rather than Culdrose. Although the aircraft would be different, engineering facilities could be shared, he says.

Andrew feels the government would also have to support the Steamship Company at the same time to ensure any subsidy isn’t anti-competitive.

He believes that other Ministers, outside transport, should be informed of the problems too.

The NHS is being inconvenienced as transfer of blood samples by air has still not been sorted and Mr George says he knows of three cases where patients have been airlifted, at great cost, when previously they could have caught the scheduled helicopter.

But Andrew feels campaigners for better transport links for the islands are walking a tightrope between highlighting genuine problems with transport and scaring off would-be visitors with stories of disruption.

FRIST member, Marian Bennett, said the group was grateful to Mr George for keeping the debate open and bringing it before the commons to ensure that there is no ignorance or complacency within government.

FRIST has been assisting the MP by obtaining the figures for travel disruption from the National Air Traffic Service.

 



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