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Monday, November 15, 1999 Published at 13:28 GMT

UK: Scotland

Support pledged to island community

The job losses are the result of warning radars being automated

The small island community of Unst has been told it will be given "maximum support" to offset the loss of 170 jobs resulting from RAF cutbacks.

Scotland Office Minister Brian Wilson and Aladsair Morrison, the Scottish Executive's deputy Minster for the Highlands and Islands, visited Unst on Monday to offer reassurances about its economic future.

Both agreed that a number of development ideas hold the key to the island's future.

[ image: Brian Wilson:
Brian Wilson: "We will listen"
Its community was delivered a severe body blow on Friday when the Ministry of Defence announced plans to make cutbacks at RAF bases on Benbecula and Unst.

The decision, which will result in the loss of 250 jobs over the next 18 months, follows news that the warning radar systems at the bases are to become automated, saving the MoD £65m.

Speaking at a public meeting, Mr Morrison said the Scottish Executive would lobby all the main agencies to ensure maximum support is provided.

He added: "The march of defence technology has inevitably meant that substantial numbers of service posts will no longer be required on Unst.

'Challenges ahead'

"There is no doubt that this, at least in the immediate future, will mean challenging times for the economy of the island.

"But I am hugely encouraged to see that the enterprise agencies, the council and local people, are demonstrating a single-minded commitment to tackling the economic consequences of the defence reductions vigorously and imaginatively.

No cash figures were mentioned on Monday but Mr Morrison said "economic need" would be taken into account when budgets are allocated to the enterprise agencies.

Brian Wilson: "We accept there are government obligations"
Mr Wilson said the UK Government was grateful to the support Unst had given the RAF over the years but technological advances meant inevitable change.

He added: "My presence on Unst illustrates the government's determination to ensure that proper support is given to Unst through its period of transition.

'Islanders' needs'

"I know that my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence share this commitment and will be as helpful as possible in responding to the island's need."

Locals have been campaigning for some of the savings the MoD will make to be ploughed back into the local economy.

A decision on the future of RAF Buchan, at Peterhead, which employs more than 400 people and is also under threat, has been delayed until January.

That decision has been welcomed by the local MP, the SNP leader Alex Salmond, who says the delay allows for cautious optimism.

A high-profile campaign to save RAF Buchan has been going on for some time.

RAF Buchan is believed to bring an estimated £10m a year to the local economy.

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