AS a mass lobby gathered at the House of Commons today (Wednesday) to protest against rising fuel prices, Western Isles politicians made a call for the Chancellor to introduce a fuel duty regulator in the Budget.
However local campaigners for the retention of RET on commercial vehicles said it was ‘highly ironic’ for local SNP politicians to take part in this campaign while allowing ‘the imposition of a household and haulage tax’ on islanders.
Gail Robertson of the Outer Hebrides Transport Group said the politicians were mute on an issue the SNP Government could change today.
“Why do they not listen to their constituents and actually fight to prevent a 50 per cent rise in ferry fares?” she asked.
Local business people also urged a re-think of the plans to remove RET for commercial vehicles.
Alan Brown, Scottish Salmon Company’s General Manager (North) said RET had been hugely beneficial in helping them to keep costs down and expand jobs and facilities in the Western Isles.
“We urge decision makers to start taking a more strategic view of how to avoid island companies being penalised as they try to grow their businesses under already tough circumstances,” he said.
Stephen Peteranna of Isles Hotel Group added that jobs would be put at risk by the move: “The removal of RET for commercial vehicles and the associated increased cost of haulage will add to the already high cost of living in Uist. It concerns me that it will become unaffordable for families to continue living here. If people leave, services will be cut making living in the islands less attractive and accelerating the decline in population. Experience tells us that the greatest demand is for 2/3 star accommodation at a price appropriate for that standard. Anything that means prices have to be increased will put us out of the acceptable price bracket for most visitors to the islands. This would result in reduced occupancy and therefore put at risk the 32 permanent and 33 seasonal jobs within our own businesses.”
David Wood of OHTG commented: “If our MSP and MP actually involved themselves in the ferry fare’s debate, we may take their words in relation to other campaigns a bit more seriously.”
Responding to the comments made, Alasdair Allan MSP said: “I appreciate the importance of ferry fares for everyone in the islands, not least for the businesses who use our ferries, who I have kept in touch with about this issue.
“It must be said, however, that there have been some unhelpful, and in some cases transparently party politically-motivated claims made in the public arena around this issue in recent weeks.
“I am certainly not going to apologise, for instance, for campaigning for fairer fuel prices, which is probably the biggest single issue facing the islands just now. Nor do I think Angus MacNeil and I need apologise for bringing the transport minister to the table with island companies and helping to ensure that £2.5 million of transitional relief this year alone, was paid by the Government to cap fare increases. These discussions also resulted in RET bring made available for vans up to 6 metres.
“RET would never have come to the Western Isles in the first place but for the SNP Government, and its permanent continuation for vans, cars and passengers, as well as its expansion throughout other areas of the Highlands and Islands, is a major achievement at a time when the UK Government is cutting Scotland’s budget by £1.3 billion this year alone.”