Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur, has today condemned the Scottish Government’s failure once again to secure a suitable passenger vessel to replace MV Hamnavoe during the re-fit period in January during FMQs.
In a parliamentary answer to Mr McArthur this week, the Islands Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP confirmed that “a like for like replacement is not available” and that consequently “a freight vessel will provide relief cover for freight traffic during this period”.
Reacting to the minister’s parliamentary answer, Mr McArthur said:
“This response is further proof that the Scottish Government’s contract with Serco Northlink is not fit for purpose, and that people in Orkney are being badly let down.
“Replacing MV Hamnavoe with a freight vessel was initially described by Ministers as a ‘one off’, but it is clear that this is now government policy.
“Mr Wheelhouse asserts that a freight vessel will provide relief cover for freight traffic, but this completely ignores the fact that passengers also rely on this lifeline route.
“That is not good enough and the government must look again at how it ensures that Serco Northlink provides the service that people in Orkney expect and deserve all year round”.
Mr McArthur took the opportunity of raising his concerns at First Minster’s Questions, having done so previously during the last refit period, where he highlighted the particular problems faced by passengers with disabilities. The First Minister responded by saying that access to public transport is “extremely important” and said that she would ask her Transport Minister to write to Mr McArthur with an update.
Speaking after his exchange with the First Minister, Mr McArthur said:
“When I last raised this issue with the First Minister, I was told that she found it “deeply regrettable that any person, particularly somebody with a disability, didn’t have the standard of a transport system that they would expect”
“Since then, however, nothing has changed. The offer of a response from the Transport Minister means little when it is clear that the government has washed its hands of any responsibility for providing people in Orkney with access all year round to the service they need and deserve”.
Alistair Carmichael MP commented:
“Only the Scottish Government could be caught off guard by a refit which happens every year. There really is no excuse for this. Either the Transport Minister is incompetent or just does not care about the service he is in charge of for Orkney. Either way local people are entitled to better than this.”