Orkney’s MSP Mr McArthur today called on the First Minister to apologise to those affected by the inadequate cover provided on the Stromness-Scrabster route during the recent MV Hamnavoe refit period.
Under the contract signed between the Scottish Government and Serco Northlink, this lifeline ferry service across the Pentland Firth has been provided by a freight vessel, the MV Helliar.
Following reports of problems due to a lack of passenger capacity and accessibility issues, Mr McArthur challenged Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Question in Holyrood today to apologise and “explain what steps her government took to ensure a more appropriate replacement vessel was identified”. Mr McArthur drew the First Minister’s attention to the specific case of Terri-Jane White, a young wheelchair user and UHI student rep, who recently found she was unable to travel due to the MV Hellier’s lack of accessibility.
Responding to Mr McArthur, the First Minister said it was “deeply regrettable that any person, particularly somebody with a disability, didn’t have the standard on a transport system that they would expect”. The First Minister also confirmed she would ask the Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf MSP, to address these issues with Serco Northlink and communicate directly with Mr McArthur.
Following the exchange, Mr McArthur said:
“Planned maintenance is an essential part of making sure that our lifeline ferry services run smoothly. However, it isn’t acceptable that a freight vessel was brought in to operate the Stromness-Scrabster route.
“A number of constituents have been in touch with me about the problems they have faced over recent weeks. Perhaps the most striking has be the case of Terri-Jane White, a UHI student rep with fibromyalgia who was unable to travel due to the lack of wheelchair accessibility on the MV Helliar. She, quite rightly, asks how a replacement ferry in 2018 is not accessible for wheelchair users.
“While it will be little comfort to passengers who have been affected over recent weeks, the First Minister has at least made clear in Parliament today that is isn’t acceptable that anyone, particularly those with a disability, should not have access to a decent standard of travel.
“She has instructed the Transport Minister to raise these issues with Northlink but it is clear that the Minister must do more to identify and help secure a more suitable replacement vessel in future. This is not the first time a freight vessel has been used in these circumstances. It must, though, be the last”.