Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has today called for the Transport Secretary to make a statement in Parliament on proposed changes to response times for the coastguard helicopter based at Sumburgh. Reports last week indicated that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency was considering proposals to increase the response time for the helicopter from 15 minutes to 1 hour, a four-fold increase, raising concerns about safety at sea.
The Leader of the House committed to a response from the Department for Transport to Mr Carmichael’s concerns.
Speaking in the House, Mr Carmichael said:
“May we have a statement from the Transport Secretary to explain to the House the proposal that the search and rescue helicopter stationed in Shetland in my constituency should have its response times increased from 15 minutes to one hour?
“The blue-light services of towns and cities would never be treated like that, so why should islanders be treated differently?”
Responding, the Leader of the House, Penny Mordaunt MP said:
“I shall certainly make sure that the Secretary of State has heard what he has said this morning. I think this is a timely matter, so if the right hon. Gentleman keeps me posted, I shall ensure that the Department is in touch with his office.”
Reacting after the exchange, Mr Carmichael said:
“A week on there is still not enough clarity from ministers or the MCA on the future of the coastguard helicopter at Sumburgh. I have written to the Secretary of State for Transport and await his response.
“The MCA has said that discussions are “ongoing”. As far as I am aware, these “ongoing” discussions are not going on with islanders themselves. You might think that we had an interest in the matter.
“The coastguard helicopter is a highly valued resource for islanders – particularly fishermen and workers in the energy industry – for safety at sea. With autumn storms drawing in it is a reminder of just how important these services are.
“One way or another we need answers – I shall be following this matter up again in the coming days.”