Freight capacity limitations must be addressed to avoid harming food producers, Shetland’s MSP has demanded.
Beatrice Wishart raised concerns in Holyrood last week about the “twin challenges” of Brexit and poor freight capacity on seafood producers and other sectors.
Speaking after the session, Ms Wishart said: “The ferry freight capacity issue is a problem that is foreseeable and solvable.
“Almost every year we talk about insufficient capacity on the Northern Isles route.
“I cannot understand why the Scottish government continues to kick the can down the road.
“The ferry freight capacity limitations must be addressed so growth in food production sectors is not stifled.”
Ms Wishart and Orkney MSP Liam McArthur wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport in June calling for assurances that contingency would be put in place to allow the Northern Isles’ freight needs to be met.
The letter was in response to Transport Scotland’s confirmation that a short-term charter had been agreed for the MV Arrow – which usually serves the Northern Isles – to provide additional services on the Stornoway-Ullapool ferry route.
The MSPs raised concerns it could have “a knock-on impact” on Northern Isles’ producers.
Ms Wishart again highlighted the importance of freight ahead of Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight which began this weekend.
She said: “This is a really exciting time for the food and drink sector which has faced a tough time during the pandemic.
“The pandemic has shown how fragile supply chains can be, and it’s a big challenge if you are at the end of that supply chain both in terms of exporting from the Northern Isles and importing food necessities.
“Events like the Food and Drink Fortnight and the Taste of Shetland Festival celebrate and promote excellent local food and drink. Buying local helps local people, reduces food miles and helps protect our environment.”
Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston called on the Scottish government to provide better support for the recovery of the sector locally as the country emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Halcro Johnston , who is also the Scottish Conservatives shadow business minister, said: “As we emerge from the pandemic, governments at all levels must be looking at how they can make this a recovery for all of Scotland.
“The reliance on our world-leading food and drink sector is just one way in which the Highlands and Islands economy has specific needs. Covid has hit differently here from the Central Belt.
“What I’m saying to Ministers is that we need a local approach – and extensive monitoring to ensure that parts of the country aren’t left behind.
“We have seen some positives over recent months, but recovery will be a long process after unprecedented interruptions to jobs, businesses and livelihoods. Politicians from all parties should be supporting a recovery that is, at the very least, fair to all parts of Scotland.”
Cabinet secretary for rural affairs, Mairi Gougeon, responding to the questions raised in Holyrood, said the Scottish government was “working tirelessly” to mitigate the impact of Brexit “but unfortunately many of the levers for that are simply outwith our control”
Transport Scotland added: “The £580m funding for ferries in the Infrastructure Investment Plan included an allocation towards the procurement of new freight vessels for the Northern Isles.
“These vessels are being designed to reflect the increasing freight volumes in the Northern Isles and may also include some passenger capacity.
“In the interim, we continue to work with the operator, Serco Northlink, on options to increase freight capacity, either through additional tonnage or more effective use of the existing space.
“The MV Arrow was not available for charter during the usual livestock period this year and indeed is being returned by CalMac later this month.”