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Community / Isles on the brink of ‘serious economic decline’

A Bristow helicopter takes off from Scatsta airport taking workers to the North Sea oil fields.Scatsta airport in the north mainland of Shetland is set to close. Photo: Shetland News

SHETLAND may be entering a serious economic decline, North Mainland councillors have warned following news that Scatsta airport is to close with the loss of up to 80 jobs.

Politicians meanwhile said that Scatsta is “strategically important” for the isles and the government needs to sit down with Highlands and Islands Enterprise and industry operators to plot a way ahead.

Staff were told on Wednesday that the Integrated Aviation Consortium had decided to award its contract for offshore air operations to a consortium that plans to operate through Sumburgh Airport.

The IAC itself has so far made no public statement about the new contract which comes into force on 1 July, despite numerous attempts by Shetland News and other local news organisations to speak to Bristow Helicopters, Eastern Airways, EnQuest and Babcock.

Councillor Andrea Manson, who also runs the St Magnus Bay Hotel, said that she was “shocked and saddened” to hear that Scatsta based Bristow had lost the key oil industry contract.

Manson said that her warnings of imminent economic decline had not been taken seriously by fellow councillors who seemed to have a rose tinted view of the future.

She said: “My reaction was just shock, not disbelief. We knew it was up for tender and it was new contracts coming – we hoped and prayed it could be coming to Scatsta.

“I feel so, so sad for the couples that work there. It is young folk that works there because of the fact of the physical nature of the jobs.

“There are lots of families. Quite a few of them have built brand new houses. Three have been built in the past few months.”

Shetland North councillor Andrea Manson.

Manson said that there had been a complete lack of consultation over the decision to close the airport, which is leased by Shetland Islands Council, but licensed by Sullom Voe Terminal operators EnQuest.

It is understood that Serco staff, who run certain airport operations, were told of the contract loss and airport’s fate at 10.30am yesterday.

As well as Serco, Bristow helicopters and local firms Tait Electronics and Nordri have employees at the airport.

According to Manson the impact of the closure amplifies the effect of job losses announced by EnQuest, all “in the space of a half-mile, within three months.”

She added: “It is a sign of the times and I would suggest that Shetland is on the verge of a serious economic decline.

“I have been trying to warn the council as a business owner, employer and avid watcher of the community for over two years and do not feel I have been taken seriously.”

Manson said that Shetlanders had perhaps “too optimistic” a view of the future and were possibly too “accepting of things happening to wis.”

Manson said there was the possibility some of the Scatsta jobs would be transferred to Sumburgh where additional staff will be needed to handle the extra work entailed by the new Babcock/Loganair consortium.

Fellow North Mainland councillor Alastair Cooper, who chairs the council’s development committee and Delting Community Council, said that the closure echoed what he had been warning for some time.

“We lost 100 jobs at Sullom Voe Terminal before Christmas. Quite a few Shetlanders took early retirement, but that’s still 100 jobs gone out of the Shetland economy that young Shetlanders could have aspired to.”

Cooper said that 40 or 50 of the Scatsta jobs were held by Shetland residents with the balance made up by pilots and engineers who lived part-time in the Brae area.

The “knock on effect” to the local economy will hit garages, shops and other local businesses, down to the cleaners who maintain the rental houses.

Cooper added: “Properly speaking its 200 jobs in the local economy [including the SVT losses] and for a peerie place like Shetland that’s quite serious. In the North Mainland now we are feeling the effects.

According to Cooper, there are more uncertainties ahead, such as BP’s plans for west of Shetland oil that could give the terminal some sort of future till 2050 to 2060.

Manson said that the planned Shetland Space Centre in Unst was one beacon on the horizon for employment in the north, even if it was a long hike from the North Mainland.

“We will have to work closely with Highlands and Islands Enterprise to see what can come to Shetland, she said.

Council chief executive Maggie Sandison said that the SIC, Scottish Government and HIE would have to consider “economic plans” once the picture on job losses was clearer.

Sandison said: “The announcement is shocking; it will be detrimental to our economy.

“When there are big job losses such as this then we have to notify the government and HIE and we have to submit a report to the government to initiate discussions and see if plans for retraining or redevelopment can be drawn up.

“Clearly, we only just have had notification of this. If we had an indication sooner then we might have been able to engage on that sooner.”

She added that because in some cases more than one person in a household was employed at Scatsta the impact of that had to be considered.

Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael and MSP Beatrice Wishart released a joint statement describing it as a “body blow” for the North Mainland.

It added: “We have all known that changes within the oil and gas industry would inevitably bring changes to Shetland but this news has come with little warning or community consultation.

“We call upon the Integrated Aviation Consortium to explain the business case for the decision that they have made.

“The local community has served the industry well over the years and they deserve to be given more answers and better respect than this.”