Islanders can expect a “significant reduction” in a ferry fares in a forthcoming announcement, according to a senior Scottish government official.
Speaking at a meeting of the external transport forum on Monday, deputy director of the ferries divisionGraham Laidlaw said that road equivalent tariff was likely to apply in the Pentland Firth and “something a bit different” for Shetland given the length of the route.
Mr Laidlaw said that the reduction was pledged in the SNP manifesto and the minister [Humza Yousaf] had indicated in the Scottish Parliament that there would be a “substantial reduction” in ferry fares.
There had been a massive response to the Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (Stag) consultation on internal and external ferry fares with 1,000 responses from both Orkney and Shetland and 200 from elsewhere. The Stag process which will underpin the next Northern Isles ferry contract is likely to be concluded early next year.
The forum heard there was an overwhelming need for cheaper transport to and from the isles in order to grow the tourist industry, in a presentation by Shetland Tourism chairman James Tait.
In a survey response 78 per cent of isles tourism businesses cited the cost of sea and air travel as a key issue and disincentive to visitor tourism, with a round trip for a family of five costing £900.
The cost of internal transport was also seen as problematic by 40 per cent of businesses in Bressay and the North and Outer Isles.
Transport, the survey found, was “overwhelmingly seen as a barrier to the growth of tourism” that individual businesses had little influence over. It called on the industry to work more closely with government and other agencies to influence the debate.
Mr Tait said later: “I am pleased that fares is now an issue that is being taken up by the government and a commitment coming sooner rather than later. The cost of getting here is a real hindrance to growing our tourist industry.”
Isles lifeline transport services Serco NorthLink and Loganair gave regular updates with Loganair reporting improving figures for reliability and punctuality which it hoped to improve further.
It also gave details about “one stop” flights, as reported last month, to Manchester and Faroe with touchdowns in Glasgow and Aberdeen respectively, saving 36 per cent on the cost of two separate flights to Manchester flights subject to the air discount scheme.
Loganair also plans to extend the season flying to Bergen and add another flight to the Norwegian city on Tuesdays.
Jonathan Wills asked if Shetland was receiving the maximum subsidy for ferries available under EU law as applied by countries like Spain and Portugal. Attempts were made to figure this out by calculating the £40m annual Scottish government subsidy against NorthLink’s revenue take, but at this point,
NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett claimed to be unable to remember the figure.
Earlier Mr Garrett had clashed with Steamline shipping group managing director Gareth Crichton who said that there was not enough cargo space for containers that was hindering rotations of cargo.
Mr Garrett said it was “inconceivable” this was the case when freight usage stood at 48 per cent of capacity. “It would not matter what I said to you it would be wrong,” he added.
Mr Crichton took exception to this and said he was raising legitimate concerns at a public forum and demanded it be noted in the minutes that there was a generic lack of freight capacity at certain times affecting all service users.