North Isles MSPs keep pressure on Government over Northern Isles ferry service

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and Orkney MSP Liam McArthur have written to the Islands Minister, Paul Wheelhouse to seek clarity on Government progress towards tendering the next ferry service contract, and on the full implementation of RET.

The next ferry contract is set to be awarded this summer to operate from 31 October 2019. However, there are concerns that thorough public scrutiny will not be possible in this short time frame. In addition, there is no indication as to when RET will be introduced in full on Lerwick-Aberdeen routes, and at all on Orkney routes. To add to the growing frustration, passengers have noticed an increase in fares on the same period last year.  

Tavish and Liam have asked the Minister to set out key dates in the timetable for tendering and have made clear that disputes over RET must be overcome with a greater sense of urgency.

Commenting Tavish said:

“The Government must get on with tendering the next contract.  Improvements in our lifeline ferry services will only be delivered if there is proper, detailed input from those who rely so heavily on those services.  Freight capacity in particular must improve following unacceptable delays in recent months.

“Islanders and island businesses need and deserve greater clarity as they look to confirm plans for the year ahead.

“Ministers are still yet to deliver on their promises for fare reductions. This RET saga is an utter shambles, the cost of travel remains prohibitive for many isles families. As cabin costs on the overnight sailing are still excluded, RET makes next to no difference for a Shetland family travelling south to Aberdeen.

“The Government should be in no doubt about the strength of feeling in the isles about RET and the urgent need for clarity.

Commenting, Liam added:

“The continued absence of RET on any of the main Orkney routes means islanders are still paying over the odds for these lifeline services.  Breaking the legal logjam must be given higher priority.  In the meantime, the funding that is not being spent on reducing fares on these routes could be used to support Orkney’s internal ferry services.

“There is also growing concern about the timeframe for tendering the Northern Isles ferry contract.  Local freight and other users of the services must have a meaningful input into shaping those services.  That simply cannot happen unless we see greater urgency from the Scottish Government in taking forward the bid process.”


Notes to editors

The full text of the letter reads:

We have been contacted by constituents who are rightly frustrated at the lack of clear progress on issues of fundamental importance to the Northern Isles lifeline ferry service. We write therefore to seek clarity and certainty on progress towards tendering the next contract due to be operational in October this year, and the related RET fare regime.

The Scottish Government made the right decision to tender the contract for the Northern Isles ferry routes after feedback from islanders, industry and local businesses. Orkney and Shetland now expect and deserve to be fully involved in the process going forward. Therefore, our constituents would be grateful if you could provide a date on which the shortlisted bidding companies will be announced. We would also appreciate details of when the formal bid documents will be allocated, and when the closing date for bids will be.

We are sure you will accept that there must be thorough scrutiny of the bid proposals to ensure that they are an improvement on the last contract, particularly regarding freight. There are already concerns that this is not feasible in the short timeframe between now and the plan to award the new contract this summer.

You will also be aware of the continued dismay in the isles at the delay in the full introduction of RET fares. We are aware that prices for families travelling with a car and a cabin have increased on the same period last year, despite the published 20% cut to passengers and car fares. You will appreciate that this does not tally with the Government’s promise to reduce fares. The continued delay in the full introduction of RET fares, or indeed any introduction in relation to Orkney routes, and legal challenges surrounding this must be resolved with the urgency this lifeline service requires.

Islanders and island businesses need greater clarity as they look to confirm plans for the year ahead. We look forward to your response on these important points.

Yours sincerely,

Tavish Scott MSP & Liam McArthur MSP

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