Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur today (Thursday) demanded clarity from the Scottish Government on when Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) will be delivered on Pentland Firth routes.
During Portfolio Questions, Mr McArthur pressed the Island Minister, Paul Wheelhouse to confirm a date for its introduction now that the courts and European Commission appear to have removed any objections to it proceeding.
Mr McArthur highlighted that cheaper fares should have been implemented on Northern Isles routes over two years ago and repeated calls for Ministers to commit the underspend from this delay to reduce fares on Orkney’s internal ferry services.
In response, Mr Wheelhouse confirmed that the Scottish Government were continuing to engage with the European Commission on options for introducing RET but said that this work had been paused because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
After the exchange, Mr McArthur commented:
“For over a decade those travelling on ferry routes to the Western Isles have benefited from cheaper ferry fares while Orkney has been excluded.
“During this time, the excuses from Ministers may have changed but sadly not the experience for many using these lifeline routes. On the Pentland Firth, people are still being forced to pay over the odds.
“Covid has inevitably created challenges, but even prior to the pandemic there seemed to be little urgency from the Scottish Government to deliver on its promise. Assurances that Ministers will now ‘pick up the ball again’ are likely to ring hollow with islanders who just want a date for cheaper fares to be introduced.
“Meantime, Ministers could help soften the blow from the delayed introduction of RET by using the underspend to cut fares on Orkney’s internal ferry services. At the very least this would prevent funds earmarked for Orkney being redirected to transport projects elsewhere in Scotland.”