Government concedes review on Sumburgh coastguard helicopter proposals

22 Nov 2023

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has welcomed government concessions today to review plans to change the provision of coastguard helicopter services in Shetland. During a debate on the future design of helicopter search and rescue services led by Mr Carmichael, transport minister Guy Opperman conceded that data used to inform decision-making needed to be updated, meriting a review.

Mr Carmichael warned after the debate that future decisions could not be based on “how many callouts there are per year, but the nature of those callouts, the weather and sea conditions and the distances and scope of area involved”.

Speaking after the debate Mr Carmichael said:

“I am glad that the minister was willing to engage positively – we need to see this followed up in results. Clearly the data that has been used to start this process has not been adequate and I am glad the minister seemed to accept this.

“What is needed now is a reset in the future planning for the helicopter service. That has to include proper engagement from the MCA and ministers with the local communities affected – fishermen, the oil and gas industry, ferry providers, shipping and others. Trust has been seriously affected by this saga and so the MCA will have to step up its game and show that it takes risk assessments and community engagement seriously.

“There has got to be a recognition that this is not a simple question of how many callouts there are per year, but the nature of those callouts, the weather and sea conditions and the distances and scope of area involved.

“Right this moment the north boat is cancelled for two days due to the severity of the weather. That alone ought to be a reminder of the nature of this service – we cut it at our peril.”