Helicopter safety concerns taken to Transport Secretary
Earlier this week, I met Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin along with the head of the Accident Investigation Branch, to discuss concerns following the number of helicopters ditching in recent years.
I was accompanied by Sir Robert Smith, MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, and by Alistair Carmichael, Scottish Secretary and MP for Orkney and Shetland.
I told the Secretary of State that families of those killed in the fatal accident in April 2009 were frustrated and angry that there has been no fatal accident enquiry or criminal prosecution, and a lack of engagement with the families.
The Minister accepted there were concerns at the most recent fatal crash off Sumburgh in that the helicopter had overturned almost immediately.
We also raised issues of the seating configuration which may have made any escape route restricted for some passengers.
A number of investigations are ongoing to look at issues of stability and survivability and these should be published fairly shortly.
Some of the incidents, including the 2009 one, showed technical failings of the aircraft and it is vital that these are evaluated and addressed.
Overall, people working in the North Sea know that helicopters are essential and alternatives of surface transfer are unpleasant and inherently dangerous. In general, given the number of flights and the extremely challenging condition, the safety record of the North Sea is good.
However every factor must be taken into account to address all technical and operational risks and reduce them to an absolute minimum.
Short cuts on energy prices unconvincing
As we head into winter and the energy companies announce price rises several times inflation, it is quite understandable people become concerned and angry. The responses, however, have been wide of the target.
Labour leader, Ed Miliband, pledges a freeze on energy prices – another popular – not to say populist move. Of course, he is not in Government so the application of his pledge can only be to whatever the energy prices are in 18 months time.
More to the point, the companies hardest hit by the freeze would be the new entrants to the market who are offering consumer choice but may be forced out of business without the strength of the big six’s balance sheets.
The Prime Minister, apparently rattled by the challenge, says he will remove the green charges from electricity bills, ignoring the fact that these are the minority of the costs added to energy bills and, of course, he pledged to lead the greenest government ever.
The hard truth is that low carbon energy, diversity and security of supply and tackling fuel poverty all have to be paid for. This Government and the previous Labour Government decided it was all part of the energy mix. The trouble is rising wholesale
prices for energy have generated resistance – so the socially beneficial bits are at risk.
The scale of the deficit makes it extremely difficult to add to the tax burden. In the end we have to fall back on tough regulation and bringing new more competitive suppliers into the energy market.
Breaking up UK aid could hit world’s poor#
Last week the International Development Committee took evidence on the implications of independence for international development. We visited Abercrombie House where 40 per cent of the DFID headquarters staff is based. We met Scottish
development NGOs, MSPs interested in development and took evidence from Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Development Minister.
By agreement with the UK Government, the Scottish Government has a small development programme totalling £9 million. The UK Government has a development budget of more than £11 billion.
The value of the Scottish development programme is that it has unlocked capacity within Scotland to help countries like Malawi building on established historical links. It has also enabled Scottish NGOs to connect more closely on development issues.
However, it should not distract from the fact that the scale and reach of the UK’s development impact is far greater than anything Scotland does or could do alone.