AS THE deadline of the end of March for the Government extension to consider the future of Emergency Towing Vessels (ETVs) edges closer, Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil and representatives from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar will be part of a group meeting with Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, on Thursday (March 1st).
Representatives from Orkney, Shetland and Highland councils will also be in attendance as the group consider the best way forward in seeking a long-term solution for ETV coverage in Scotland.
An industry solution has been found for the ETV tugs covering the Northern Isles and the Government has been seeking a similar solution for the west of Scotland.
Following six months of industry engagement, a solution has not been found and the Comhairle and others are calling on the Government to make a medium-term commitment to retain the ETV, on the basis that an industry solution will emerge over the coming years.
Comhairle Leader, Cllr Angus Campbell, commented: “With the contract extension for the ETV coming to an end, it’s disappointing that a solution for the west of Scotland has not been tabled.
“After six months of engagement, the Government has come to the same conclusion that the Comhairle arrived at last year: that, unlike other parts of the UK, there is not currently a workable industry solution for the west.
“This in itself is a demonstration of market failure and in such a situation the Government has a clear responsibility to intervene.”
Mr Campbell continued: “We believe that an industry solution will emerge as the renewable industry matures, and this will happen over the course of the next five or six years. It is therefore essential that the UK Government accept its responsibility and make a medium-term commitment to continue providing ETV coverage.
“In finding industry solutions for three of the four ETVs, the Government has achieved most of what it set out to do.
“For Ministers to have reached this stage and leave a service gap off the west coast of Scotland would amount to a reckless gamble that could have catastrophic effects for the people who live and work in the area and for the environment of the region as a whole.”
Island MP Angus MacNeil detailed that he has again asked the Secretary of State for Scotland to secure the future of the tugs in hopes to bring an end to the present uncertainty.
He said: “The responsibility of these tugs lies firmly with the UK Government and when all is said and done, the UK Government must find a solution and guarantee the long-term future of the tugs.
“Six months ago the UK Government announced they were to withdraw the tugs however, at the last minute they received a reprieve. We cannot continue to operate this service on the hope of last minute reprieves, we need definite answers now.
“Coastal protection is too important an issue to be treated in such a way.”