Orkney MSP Liam McArthur met with the news Islands Minister, Humza Yousaf MSP, yesterday to discuss action to tackle high ferry fares and a range of other issues.
During the election campaign, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promised action to tackle high ferry fares when she visited Orkney and Shetland in April.
However, Scottish Government answers to parliamentary questions from Mr McArthur have since indicated that price reductions are set to be delayed until the new Northern Isles ferry contract, which is due to begin in April 2018.
Mr McArthur therefore met the new Islands Minister to press the need for immediate action on ferry fares, in addition to the replacement of Orkney’s internal ferry fleet, a future Islands Bill and the exclusion of business travel from the air discount scheme.
Commenting, Mr McArthur said:
“The meeting with the new Islands Minister, Humza Yousaf was useful and I welcome his constructive approach. He recognised the need for urgent action to bring down the cost of ferry fares. Details of how this will be done need to be worked out, but it is important the Scottish Government comes forward with a detailed plan as soon as possible.
“There was also an acceptance of the pressing need Orkney’s internal ferry fleet to be replaced. This is a cost, however, that Orkney Islands Council cannot be expected to meet itself and therefore the Minister must ensure that the Scottish Government steps up to the plate.
“Sticking with the transport theme, Mr Yousaf was also left in no doubt about the need to look again at the SNP’s removal of business travel from the air discount scheme in 2011. This was a damaging decision for our islands, taken with no prior consultation. HITRANS are currently consulting on the issue and I urged the Minister to take account of the findings.”
“Finally, we discussed the government’s plans for a future Islands Bill. We agreed that legislation and government policy must better reflect the needs and circumstances of island communities in future. For so-called “island proofing” to work, however, it has to be more than a tick box exercise. Mr Yousaf accepted this point and was grateful for some specific examples I offered of where island-proofing might deliver ‘quick wins’”.