A blueprint for future ferry services has been published this week and communities have until the end of March 2012 to comment on the plans.
The proposals for the Western Isles include retaining all current routes; improving the Barra winter service from three to at least five days but not progressing the Lochboisdale/Mallaig route as a priority.
The Scottish Government is now seeking feedback from local communities on the draft Ferries Plan.
Minister for Housing and Transport, Keith Brown said:
“The long term future of ferry services in Scotland is vital not only for Scotland’s economic wellbeing but also for the people in our island and remote communities. As a Government we are absolutely determined and committed over the next decade to delivering on a progressive basis improved ferry services, and the draft Ferries Plan focuses on the things that we know matter most to our communities.
“We want to build on the momentum generated by our recent announcement to extend the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) during the lifetime of the current Parliament, and the draft Ferries Plan provides a raft of further positive proposals. We believe the RET underpins the way forward for ferry fares and we plan to replace the current route specific nature of fare setting with RET as the basis for fares for passengers and cars.”
Contributions to the draft Ferries Plan will be open until 30 March 2012. A final Ferries Plan is due to be published in 2012 which will provide clear strategic guidance for the provision of ferry services in Scotland through to 2022.
Commenting today on the draft ferry review published by the Scottish Government SNP MP for Na H-Eileanan an Iar Angus MacNeil said:
“The ferries review is an avenue for us to look again at the decision to remove RET from haulage companies, it is essential that RET is retained for island hauliers.
“We have also heard this week from the local fishing industry and the Scottish Crofting Federation who have grave concerns about the removal of RET from hauliers and I have received feedback from the Western Isles Fishermens Association who are worried that they will no longer be competitive with mainland operators due to the proposed increase in transport costs.
“The review also allows us to continue fighting for a service between Lochboisdale and Mallaig. It also gives an opportunity to those who are fighting to change the five metre rule for commercial operators, increasing it to six metres, to give their views, and bring the Western Isles in line with the Northern Isles.
“I would encourage all interested parties to respond to the consultation which runs until March 2012.”
MSP Alasdair Allan added: ““I am pleased that the Scottish Government’s Ferries Review clearly recognises the need for all five ferry connections between the Western Isles and the mainland, and advocates that all these connections should be maintained. This is something which I argued for in my submission to the Ferries Review.
“I welcome that the Ferries Review recognises the massive economic impact that Road Equivalent Tariff has had for the Western Isles and that the right decision was made to extend cheaper fares to tourists as well as residents. The news that RET is to be extended to the Sound of Harris and Sound of Barra ferries over the course of this Parliament is also highlighted.
“The report accepts that the popularity of RET fares has led to a significant increase in traffic and that we need to find better ways to better manage ferry services so that everyone’s needs are met.
“With regards to replacing RET with discounts for commercial operators the Government has said that it is now open to discussing with businesses which use larger commercial vehicles the fairest formula which could be used to apply discounts. I recently argued the importance of applying any discounts fairly to both larger and smaller companies, and to this end I will be hosting a meeting between island businesses and the Government in the new year to discuss the way forward on establishing the fairest possible discount system.
“The Ferries Review also confirms that a new £45 million purpose-built vessel is currently in the process of being procured for the Stornoway to Ullapool route, which represents a welcome increase in capacity on this busy route. It also highlights that this will also lead to improvements to the infrastructure in Stornoway and Ullapool in order to handle this new vessel.
“The Review accepts that the current level of service for Barra is not satisfactory and that improvement of this service will be a funding priority, with the aim being that Barra should expect a ferry five days a week in winter, instead of the current three days. The Ferry Review, however, is keen that this does not happen to the detriment of the Lochboisdale ferry service. I continue to make the case for a Lochboisdale to Mallaig route and for improvements to the Lochboisdale-Oban service meantime.
“I believe that these are a balanced set of proposals for ferry services in the islands and ones which I hope can be built on to improve services further into the future.”