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Highlands and Islands Airports (Car Parking Charges)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:24 pm on 24th February 2010.

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Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 5:24 pm, 24th February 2010

The record is now clear and I am sure that the member would not seek to mislead me or anyone else on the matter—two car parks it is.

I simply make the point that the circumstances in which different bodies find themselves mean that they have to look very carefully at the options that are in front of them.

I make the general point that HIAL has 11 airports. I have flown personally into all of them: four as a pilot, a number as a passenger personally and some as a minister. I know that there is huge diversity in the airports across the network and that we have to have appropriate responses to the needs of each one.

I heard the discussions about air fares. It is correct that in our island communities there is not much, if any, competition for the provision of services, so one's choice is much more limited. As a minister, when I was going to Poznań for the 14th conference of the parties—COP 14—about 15 months ago, according to the initial quote from the Government's travel advisers the fare would be £1,200. I did not think that that was the right amount of money, so I spent 20 minutes on the internet and got it down to about £200. It meant arriving in Poznań at 3.15 in the morning, but I thought that it was a sensible thing for the minister to do, although he should not have had to do it.

I acknowledge the value of the discount scheme that the previous Administration introduced and I have been pleased to continue to give support to that very important scheme. I am not terribly sure that the references to FOIs accorded with my understanding of what went on. We have had some useful clarification from Kevin Dunion, the Information Commissioner, about whether documents or information may be sought and we have adjusted our policies accordingly.

It is important that we have a consistent policy on car parking, but having a consistent policy does not ineluctably lead to having identical outcomes. It is clear that the distance of Sumburgh airport from any major centres of population in Shetland creates a particular dynamic that will need to be considered.

I acknowledge Alasdair Allan's legitimate point that there are not many tourists in the car parks of our major island airports. They are essentially used by local people and there is significant difficulty in travelling to airports.

Peter Peacock, like Liam McArthur, referred to NHS patients. I quote from a letter from Inglis Lyon to, among others, the chair of the Kirkwall airport consultative committee. At question 2, it states:

"No charge for hospital patients".

I accept that that is for consultation and that it is a suggestion, but I would be somewhat surprised, whatever outcome we achieve, if we were to wish to charge hospital patients or, for that matter, blue badge holders. Indeed, the suggestion in the letter from Inglis Lyon is that the charge for parking for 24 hours will be £3—broadly the same as the charge for parking in the centre of Kirkwall.

We are in challenging financial times and the board of HIAL is responsible for running the company. The Government minister—me—acts on behalf of the public as the owner of the shares, but, under the Companies Act, it is clear that we appoint the board members to make decisions. I am sure that HIAL will be watching the debate and will be very much aware of the interest that is being taken in the issue. I am very pleased that consultations are now going on. Given reduced demand and hence reduced income, it is important that the board considers every opportunity to balance the books and to ensure that it discharges its responsibilities.