Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur has again pressed the government to take action to ensure the growing demands for freight capacity on Northern Isles ferry routes are met in future.
At General Questions in Parliament today, Mr McArthur reminded the Islands Minister, Paul Wheelhouse of reassurances that had been given by the First Minister, when her raised the matter with her back in September 2018, following serious concerns having been raised by key sectors of the Orkney and Shetland economies.
Mr McArthur also quoted advice to Ministers from Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), obtained through Freedom of Information, which revealed that proposals had been put forward for the purchase or long term charter of a freight vessel, MV Clipper Ranger, that could have provided the extra capacity needed on both the Northern Isles and west coast routes.
When asked why this ‘sensible proposal’ had not been taken up by the government, Mr Wheelhouse replied that it “did not represent good value for money”.
Commenting after the exchange, Mr McArthur said:
“Last year, the First Minister assured me that her government took the challenge of meeting the growing demand for freight capacity on ferry routes serving the Northern Isles seriously. This followed warnings that a lack of capacity was putting at risk key sectors of the Orkney and Shetland economies.
“We now know that, at the same time, CMAL was putting forward sensible proposals for how this growing demand could be met. As CMAL made clear, the purchase or long term charter of MV Clipper Ranger could be used to meet the demand on Northern Isles routes for four or five months of the year, while also providing additional cover needed on the Ullapool-Stornoway route. A win-win for all three island communities.
“The Minister, however, argues this does not represent ‘value for money’ and insists that vessels will need to be leased on an ad hoc basis. This assumes, though, that such vessels will continue to be available, something many industry experts seriously dispute.
“Passing up this opportunity has made our lifeline ferry services less resilient and denied many businesses in both Orkney and Shetland the chance and confidence to expand. That is not in the interests of our island communities nor indeed the interests of Scotland’s economy. It also falls far short of the assurance the First Minister gave when I raised this issue with her last September.”