Orkney MSP Liam McArthur today called on the First Minister to confirm the date for introducing cheaper ferry fares on Northern Isles routes without delay.
Following a sustained campaign from Liberal Democrats and others in the Northern Isles, the Transport Minister announced last August that the Scottish Government would introduce cheaper ferry fares in the “first half of 2018”.
However, no news has been forthcoming which has raised concerns, notably within the tourism sector, that the Northern Isles could be losing out on attracting visitors this summer.
Speaking at First Minister’s Question today, Mr McArthur explained: “As we approach Easter weekend, there is still no sign of cheaper fares being introduced and more worryingly still there is still no sign of a formal start date.”
He asked the First Minister to accept that “this ongoing lack of clarity is unhelpful, particularly for the islands tourism sector which relies heavily on advanced bookings over the summer period.”
Orkney’s MSP urged the First Minister to confirm a start date for the introduction of fares before Parliament returns after the Easter recess, in two weeks’ time.
Responding, the failed to commit to a formal start date and instead unstructured the Transport Minister to write to Mr McArthur with an update.
Following the exchange, Mr McArthur said:
“It’s now ten years since this SNP government first introduced cheaper ferry fares on west coast routes. Despite promises that Orkney and Shetland would be included in the scheme by summer 2018, we still have no formal date for the introduction of RET on Northern Isles ferry routes.
“There is growing concern that the continued failure of the Scottish Government to make clear when fares will be reduced is leading to people holding off making bookings. This is potentially bad news for the local tourist sector, which is vital to the Orkney economy.
“That is why I pressed the First Minister today to ensure that a formal start date for the reduced fares is confirmed before parliament returns after the Easter recess. Unfortunately, Nicola Sturgeon refused to give such an undertaking, claiming that this was work in progress for the Transport Minister.
“This simply is not good enough. Local businesses, individuals and indeed potential visitors to our islands need clarity. They also need to see these cheaper fares, promised for so long, finally introduced.”