Orcadian Column, 22 July 2021

It takes a rare talent to get injured simply watching a football match, but this is what I managed to achieve last week as Sanday’s Parish Cup ambitions were dealt a mortal blow by Holm.

Jumping up to catch a ball at the side of the pitch midway through the first half, I succeeded in dislocating my hip and spent the next hour under a pile of coats waiting for an ambulance to arrive while listening to an enthusiastic, if sometimes baffling commentary of Sanday’s 3-0 defeat.

It turns out the injury I sustained playing against Westray three weeks earlier was more serious than I realised. Although it was popped back in almost immediately, the hip had been dislocated and all it took was my less than balletic leap in the air to wrench it out of place again.

In many respects, the accident sums up perfectly Sanday’s Parish Cup fortunes this year. Over four matches, there have been three broken legs, a dislocated hip and a series of muscle injuries. All a far cry from last time round when Sanday memorably made it to the final for the first time since 1988.

This year’s competition still has an intriguing feel to it, however. Holm and Firth will be evenly matched, while the other semi-final sees a Stromness team that has dominated over recent years face the surprise package, Stenness, who are enjoying a fairy tale campaign.

Sanday FC’s ‘block booking’ at the Balfour hospital is not the only bad news I’ve been wrestling with over the last couple of weeks. Details of Repsol Sinopec’s plans for their operations in Flotta remain unclear, but as the Orcadian reported last week, it is understood that around 40 jobs may be at risk.

The company has said little to date, other than to confirm that consultation on ‘organisational changes’ is ongoing, staff reductions will be ‘minimised’ and ‘redeployment opportunities will be explored where possible”.  Nevertheless, this will be a worrying time for all those connected to the terminal. 

In the context of increasingly urgent efforts to reduce carbon emissions and meet our legally binding climate targets, changes in the oil and gas sector are inevitable. However, this must be a transition that happens in close collaboration with those directly affected, upon whose skills the success of that transition depends.  That is why I will be holding discussions with Repsol Sinopec over the coming days to find out more about what is planned.

Meanwhile, news also broke last week of planned strike action at airports across the Highlands & Islands. With passenger numbers starting to increase again, and more people looking to book trips away over the summer, this is the last thing we needed to see.  Loganair are offering passengers scheduled to travel on 29 July the chance to rebook on alternative days free of charge. They are also seeking clearance to continue operating inter-island services on that day. Nevertheless, disruption is now unavoidable and I want to see Scottish Ministers step in to avoid this dispute escalating over the coming months.

Fundamentally, the dispute stems from HIAL’s plan to centralise air traffic services for the entire region in Inverness. To date, SNP Ministers have happily endorsed this approach, despite growing concerns about the potential risks, costs and impact on island communities, not least from the resultant loss of skilled jobs.

Earlier this year, HIAL’s own island impact assessment highlighted a series of ‘significant negative impacts’ from centralisation, while failing to identify a single positive impact.  This follows an initial appraisal by HIAL’s consultants that suggested the ‘remote tower’ model represented the most risky and costly option. No-one disagrees that these services need to be modernised, but HIAL’s insistence that centralisation is the only show in town is just wrong.

Costs are already spiralling, and time is fast running out to rethink the approach, but Ministers can still call a halt to this expensive vanity project. Given the potential consequences for our lifeline air services, that is a call they must now make.  Failure to do so would be as reckless as trying to jump up to catch a ball having recently dislocated your hip.

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