Orkney MSP Liam McArthur today challenged the First Minister to justify the late decision to hike freight charges for commercial traffic travelling to and from the Northern Isles by 2.9%.
The increase was announced by Transport Scotland, despite earlier assurances that freight fares would be frozen pending the outcome of the government’s review of ferry freight fares. for next year and will be imposed from 1 January 2018.
There has been ‘shock’ and ‘anger’ locally at the decision, which comes into effect from 1 January 2018, leading Mr McArthur to raise the issue at First Minister’s Questions today in Holyrood.
Addressing the First Minister, Mr McArthur asked how the 2.9% increase on fright “squares with government objectives of bearing down on the cost of living for islanders or indeed support for Scotland’s food and drink sector?”
He added: “Does she [The First Minister] believe it is right, as Audit Scotland have highlighted, that freight fares paid by hauliers on west coast routes remain largely unchanged since 2010, but have increased significantly for hauliers serving businesses and residents in Orkney and Shetland?
Responding, the First Minister indicated the freight ferry fare review would be published “as soon as possible”.
Following the exchange in Parliament, Mr McArthur said:
“There is no doubt that the decision by the Scottish Government to increase freight fares will have an impact on the competitiveness of local businesses in Orkney. It will also increase costs for all local residents to some extent.
“Promises by Scottish Ministers that their ongoing review of ferry freight charges would be complete by the end of the summer have not been delivered. The expectation, however, was that fares would be frozen until the outcome of the review was known. That has not happened and the level of anger felt locally is understandable.
“The First Minister was unable to offer any clarity about when the review will conclude and no justification for the change in position in relation to fare increases. Meanwhile, her talk of investment in ferry services will ring hollow in Orkney and Shetland, where freight fares have risen markedly over recent years, while for hauliers on west coast routes, they remain largely the same as they were in 2010.
“I urge the First Minister to think again and put on hold any fare increases until the conclusions of the review of ferry freight fares is published.”