Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur, has today (Tuesday) warned that the new Northern Isles ferry contract falls short of meeting the increasingly urgent demand in Orkney and Shetland for additional freight capacity.
During Topical Questions, Mr McArthur again welcomed an end to the uncertainty over the future provision of this lifeline service and the continuity offered by Serco Northlink. He also reiterated to the Islands Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, however, that the new contract failed to provide a commitment to providing much needed additional freight capacity on Northern Isles services.
In response, the Minister recognised Mr McArthur’s concerns but pointed to what he felt was “greater flexibility” in the new contract to allow freight services to be amended to better reflect changes in demand.
Following the exchange, Mr McArthur met with the Minister to discuss the new contract in more detail. During the meeting, it was agreed that a meeting with key stakeholders in Orkney and Shetland to discuss the specific freight needs into the future would be a useful next step.
Commenting on developments, Mr McArthur said:
“Key businesses in Orkney and Shetland have been clear for some time now that current freight capacity is inadequate to meet their needs now and into the future. Addressing this issue has only become more urgent since the First Minister assured me twelve months ago that her government was taking these concerns seriously.
“It was therefore disappointing not to see more of a recognition of this when details of the new contract were announced last week.
“The Minister has proposed a meeting of the main stakeholders in Orkney and Shetland to discuss the nature and extent of future freight demand in the islands. I think this would be a useful next step in identifying specific challenges and opportunities, while also helping build the strongest possible case for expanding capacity.
“Much of this information has been made available already, but I look forward to taking part in any such roundtable with a view to ensuring that businesses in Orkney and Shetland have access to the freight services they need”.