Scottish Government's conduct with airports over testing pilot a 'disgrace'

The Scottish Government has been criticised by opposition politicians for disgraceful conduct in dealing with the aviation sector during the pandemic.

MSP candidates have hit out at the Scottish Government's handling of the aviation sector's problems during the pandemic.
MSP candidates have hit out at the Scottish Government's handling of the aviation sector's problems during the pandemic.

Both the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives were critical of the SNP government’s decision to quietly ditch a pilot for a double testing scheme, suggested by Scotland’s biggest airport as an alternative to quarantine.

The Scotsman revealed that the airports had been forced to submit a freedom of information request to discover why civil servants had recommended their scheme for refusal despite ministerial support for a pilot.

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Ministers were also found to have warned about any potential divergence from UK Government policy would hand a competitive advantage to English airports ahead of the eventual move towards a stricter hotel quarantine policy.

The Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh West, Alex Cole-Hamilton said a pilot would have been the “sensible thing to do” to help the aviation sector recover.

He said: "I've been pressing the SNP Government to deliver testing for Covid-19 at airport throughout the past year. I never got much of a straight answer. Why on earth would they ditch this pilot? It would have been the sensible thing to do.

"I am disappointed that the airport was forced to use a freedom of information request to find out what happened to those plans, rather than ministers just being straightforward and telling them. If we had launched a successful trial back in December, we could have a proper system in place now, ready for more flights and routes opening up later in the year.

"The Government kept telling us that they were engaging with the aviation industry but that does not seem to be the case in any meaningful sense. It's not the way to treat large employers and far from transparent. I will keep standing up for my constituents who work at the airport and doing everything I can to secure their livelihoods."

The airport proposals were rejected on the basis of “considerable concerns” about removing quarantine for travellers but said it was “beneficial to explore a pilot approach”.

However the airports were forced to wait weeks to find out they had been dropped despite civil servants recommending refusal within days.

They were then told they could not see the advice provided to ministers by civil servants and clinicians.

Graham Simpson, the Scottish Conservatives’ transport spokesperson said it was evidence of the “shabby and arrogant” treatment of the aviation sector during the pandemic.

He said: "The SNP has treated Scotland's airline industry in a shabby and arrogant way throughout the pandemic.

"Scotland's airports have been trying to find solutions to make travel safe but they have been sidelined. To have to use freedom of information laws to find out what on earth has been going on is a disgrace.

"We need to see an airline recovery plan. The sector needs to be able to plan ahead. The public need to know when they can start planning to travel again.

“The SNP would rather push for a reckless independence referendum while all Scottish Conservative focus is on how we recover and rebuild from the pandemic."

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