SNP Highlands and Island MSP Jean Urquhart asked the Government what action was being taken following the UK Government’s decision not to renew the contract for emergency towing vessels in the Pentland Firth.
Stewart Stevenson, Environment and Climate Change Minister, said: “Emergency towing vessels are crucial to protect mariners and the marine environment. We have urged the UK Government to continue to provide cover until a suitable alternative solution can be identified and put in place.
“Although we are pleased at the positive engagement that we have had with Oil and Gas UK on a potential solution for the Northern Isles, it is imperative that any transition to a new arrangement does not involve a gap in provision. The UK Government must also ensure that cover is in place for the Western Isles and the Minches.
“Richard Lochhead recently wrote to Mike Penning MP on the issue, and will also raise it with David Mundell MP at the Scotland Office.” He added: “I agree that it is essential that all maritime interests and industries are fully considered in any future proposals. The Scotland Office is leading on the issue and I assure members that the Scottish Government is engaged in the discussions.
The UK Government has consistently made it clear to us that the matter is reserved. We, in turn, have also been clear that if no commercial option is available, it is the UK Government’s responsibility to fund provision of the service.” Tavish Scott, Shetland Islands Lib Dem MSP, then asked whether the Government planned to work with local government, the UK Government and the oil and gas industry to find a solution.
He said: “Does the minister accept that the current contract for emergency vessels is a great deal for salvage companies but absolutely terrible for Scottish taxpayers? Does he therefore recognise that the pursuit of the shared use of an alternative vessel is a sensible and constructive way to keep the seas safe?” Stevenson added: “The situation that we are in and the vessels that we currently have, as well as the timescale that is pressing us, make it difficult to find a vessel that would be suitable for all purposes.
“I hope that the UK Government continues to work with the industry in a meaningful way, and that the industry is also able to help us. I also hope that all levels of government get engaged in this important issue. However, I have to say to the member that, if we had the independent powers of a normal country, we would have solved the problem long since.”
04.05.12: Cod recovery plan
Tavish Scott asked when Richard Lochhead, Rural Affairs and Environment Secretary, last met Maria Damanki, European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs, and what was being done to ensure flexibility for fishing fleets under the cod recovery plan.
Lochhead responded: “I last met with Commissioner Damanaki on 25 April. At this meeting, and on previous occasions, I underlined the concern of a number of EU member states for there to be changes made urgently to the EU’s Cod Recovery Plan (CRP). In particular I have sought from the commissioner an assurance that there will be no further reductions in minimum levels of fishing effort available to EU fleets, a view strongly supported by a number of member states. I will continue to press these important arguments with the commissioner.
“In its implementation of the CRP in Scotland, through the innovative Conservation Credits scheme, the Government has continued to make full use of flexibilities available under the plan to allocate additional time at sea to Scottish vessels, in return for their adoption of conservation-minded fishing practices, such as the use of more selective fishing gear.
“As a consequence of this approach, the Scottish North Sea whitefish fleet was able in 2011 to spend over 50 per cent more time at sea than would have been possible under the minimum allocation provided by the EU. In 2012, the Government and the fishing industry have also agreed a ground-breaking deal for the prawn fleet, which aims to substantially reduce unwanted catches of cod. In return, the Government is able to reverse all the cuts in time at sea that this fleet has been subject to since 2009.”
26.04.12: Power cuts on Islay
Jamie McGrigor (Con), Highlands and Islands, asked John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, about continued power cuts on Islay. The minister said: “Islay residents, who are supplied by Scottish Hydro Electric Power Distribution, have suffered a series of power outages since September 2010, most of which were not caused by the severe weather events of the past year. Some outages were caused by faults on the cable that connects Islay to Jura and ultimately to the mainland, and the cable has now been replaced at a cost of £8m.
Scottish Hydro Electric Power Distribution is also investigating the possibility of further engineering work around the cable to reduce the heavy erosion that is caused by the fast-flowing tides in the Sound of Jura. It is estimated this work will cost £3m.
“Other faults have been caused by the condition of overhead lines—both those on the mainland that supply the subsea cable and those on Islay itself.
Scottish Hydro Electric Power Distribution has already refurbished the 33kV overhead line feeder between Port Ann and Lochgilphead at a cost of approximately £800,000, which will help to secure supplies to the island, and it is about to embark on a schedule of refurbishment work on the island that will cost about £1.8m. That scheme will directly address the problems that have been experienced over the past two years.
“I hope that that comprehensive programme of engineering work will alleviate the concerns of the member and his constituents on the island of Islay.” McGrigor continued that parts of Islay, particularly the Portnahaven and Port Charlotte end, were still suffering from power cuts and added: “My constituents in the area are understandably losing patience. Islay is hugely important to our economy, so I am sure that the minister agrees that it deserves a proper electricity infrastructure.” The minister replied: “Clearly, the tourism and whisky sectors, as well as local residents who are not involved in those sectors, depend extensively on power supplies. I will ensure that the concerns that have been raised in Parliament today are drawn to the attention of Scottish Hydro Electric Power Distribution. It is fair to acknowledge that the company has invested heavily in trying to improve the infrastructure of electricity supply to the islands and it will wish to ensure that continuity of supply is guaranteed to the residents of this important community.”