Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Flights take flight

Just a commentary after the event on the recent saga surrounding the axing of flights in and out of Benbecula.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar decided to axe flights between Benbecula and Barra, saving £148,000. This has had certain consequences, and in my opinion not all of them were foreseen by our local authority. Although the flights were poorly subscribed, they fulfilled a lifeline function. Transporting urgent medical supplies, and patients back and forth to the Uist & Barra hospital is but one that came to mind. Yes, there is the ferry from Eriskay to Barra, but I can’t imagine that many recently discharged patients from the U&B relish the prospect of a potentially bumpy 40 minutes on the high seas.
However, I really do wonder if CNES foresaw the logistical consequences - I doubt it. Withdrawing the Barra flights from Benbecula also resulted in a reduction in flights from Benbecula to Stornoway (to just 3 days a week) as well as in flights from Stornoway to Inverness and Edinburgh. I found it wryly comical when our MSP started to squawk at the prospect of his Friday flight from Edinburgh being axed so he couldn’t go home for the weekend. Cutting the Benbecula - Stornoway flights means that consultants coming from Stornoway can only do so on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, unless they are prepared to drive 75 miles (in total) and sit on a ferry for a whole hour to get themselves to the U&B in Balivanich, Benbecula. And do the process in reverse at the end of the day.
I am not convinced that CNES consulted with Loganair prior to implementing the decision to cut the flights. Reading the media reports at the time, everybody seems to have been caught out by the consequences. Another consequence is the loss of a subsidy from the Scottish Government for this lifeline service.

Cutting costs, which CNES has had to do to the tune of £6m, is a necessary evil in this time of economic stagnation. But cutting costs without due regard for the consequences is not good local government.

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