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Stop the gravy train, not the flights

Papa Stour resident Andy Holt is losing patience with SIC cuts

BETTER ways of saving money than cutting the air service to the Shetland isle of Papa Stour could be easily found, according to local residents.

On Wednesday Shetland Islands Council’s development committee agreed to consult on removing the weekly flights to Papa Stour and Out Skerries as part of its attempt to cut public spending by 20 per cent.

Islanders on Skerries have said they feel under siege having been threatened once again with the closure of their three pupil secondary school and losing their fire station.

Papa Stour only has two return flights every Tuesday, compared to Skerries’ four, which are seldom used. A few months ago the council combined the Papa Stour flight with the flight to neighbouring Foula.

Local resident Andy Holt said he could not understand how the council would save any money by stopping the service.

“The only time we use it is if someone requests it and the number of times it comes into Papa Stour could be counted on the fingers of one hand.” 

He said recently two men spent the whole day on the island just to check the generator at the air strip. Two weeks ago another two men were sent in for the day to see if the grass needed cutting around the local church. It didn’t.

“They should have got on the telephone and asked: ‘Does the grass need cutting?’, it would have saved £200,” Holt protested, calling it a waste of council tax payers money.

“I am paying for these guys to come in, I am paying for their overalls and their dossing about.

“I am fed up with the council looking at small communities like this to save money, looking at old people, cutting their meals and not cutting what’s really going on, which is this gravy train of almost 4,000 people working for the SIC and a lot of them doing very little.”

Transport officers under pressure to save £1.25 million from their £5.3 million budget will now consult on just providing flights to Fair Isle and Foula.

Several councillors at Wednesday’s meeting condemned the fact islanders first heard of the plans through the media.

Shetland West member Frank Robertson said: “It is slightly unfortunate that this has come in at a rather late stage without prior consultation with the communities in Papa Stour and Skerries. I am not comfortable with this.”

North Isles member Robert Henderson said community councils should have been informed first.

Head of transport Michael Craigie acknowledged the criticism and apologised, saying this was not his department’s “normal practice” and admitting they had failed island communities.

Still councillors remained adamant that merely examining the figures did not mean the services would definitely be lost.

Craigie was tasked to consider increasing fares for special unscheduled flights and reviewing the overall fare structure after North Isles member Steven Coutts complained that he could not understand why those over 60 would only pay a third of the normal fare.