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McArthur calls for proper auditing of air traffic control proposals

Kirkwall Airport.

Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur, has called for a proper audit of HIAL’s air traffic centralisation proposals amidst fears of rising costs.

During a meeting of the parliament’s Public Petitions Committee yesterday morning, Wednesday, Mr McArthur reminded MSP colleagues that the centralisation plans were found, by HIAL’s own consultants, to be the riskiest and costliest option for modernising air traffic services. 

Highlighting the massive cost overruns in the procurement of ferries from Ferguson Marine, Mr McArthur urged the committee to help ensure robust auditing takes place to avoid a repeat in relation to HIAL’s project. 

Orkney’s MSP also criticised the islands impact assessment into HIAL’s plan, which is now not expected to be published until February next year, at least six months after it was originally promised.

Commenting on the petition committee’s consideration, Mr McArthur said: The debacle at Fergusons provides a stark warning of the risks associated with large scale public procurements. The Scottish Government’s efforts to build two new ferries are four years late and more than twice the original cost of £87m.

Given that recent experience, one might assume that Scottish Ministers would be taking every precaution to ensure costs are controlled on projects such as HIAL’s centralisation of air traffic services. To date, that does not seem to be the case.

Instead, HIAL have been given the green light to press on, even though there are already signs that all is not going to plan. The need for primary radar at each HIAL airport, for example, will inevitably push up costs significantly. 

It was encouraging to see the petitions committee grasp the scale of the risk and I am delighted at their decision to take further evidence from a range of witnesses. There was a welcome recognition amongst members of the need for a proper and rigorous auditing process to ensure HIAL’s plans are kept under control.

This is the least that the public would expect and essential in protecting the interest of taxpayers, but also the communities who rely on the lifeline air services operated through HIAL’s network.

I look forward to continuing to participate in the petitions committee’s future scrutiny work on this important issue”.

In reply to the comments made by Mr McArthur, Inglis Lyon, HIAL managing director stated: The fundamental function of air traffic control is safety. We have a duty to ensure our operation is as resilient as it possibly can be to guarantee lifeline services and air connectivity for our communities into the future. This investment in the best modern air traffic technology systems is critical to the long-term sustainability of our network. Comparing this with an unrelated public procurement project is not constructive.

We are on budget and have a pre-arranged meeting with the Internal Audit and Assurance branch of the Government early in the New Year. We welcome the opportunity to explain the rationale for these changes and having previously asked the Petitions Committee for the opportunity to meet with them, look forward to presenting that in due course.”