Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has called on the Scottish government to introduce a discount fare scheme for transporting goods to and from the Western Isles, on a par with that offered to hauliers using ferries to Orkney and Shetland.
In a statement the Comhairle said that the cost of transporting goods to the islands had been a ‘recurring theme’ in recent meetings between councillors and local business leaders, and claimed that islanders are often unable to access goods where additional charges are levied for transport beyond the mainland.
The Comhairle stated that hauliers taking goods to Orkney and Shetland on Serco Northlink receive discounts on fares for advance bookings, weekend rates and an empty trailer discount, and called on the Scottish Government to create ‘a level playing field’ extending discounts offered on routes to the Northern Isles to ferry service to the Western Isles.
But, the Comhairle claims in its statement, the authority has now been told that this proposal will be considered in a new Ferries Plan which, the authority stated, ‘will not be completed until 2022 at the earliest’.
Cllr Uisdean Robertson, Chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure, said; “The cost of getting goods to and from the islands has an enormous effect on the ability to do business from the Western Isles and impacts on everyday life here. “Government should do all it can to foster our fragile island economies. The range of discounts that support key sectors in Orkney and Shetland are very pragmatic steps that support the way of life in the Northern Isles. We do not seek to see these removed.
“Instead, we feel Government should extend these excellent schemes to the Clyde and Hebridean islands to bring a direct reduction to the cost of living and doing business in these islands, too.”
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “The existing ferry freight fares structure is extremely complex, with differences in rates per mile, categories of freight, rules of carriage and discounts, across the various ferry networks.
“We are currently conducting a comprehensive review of ferry freight fares under the guidance of a Working Group of key stakeholders, and have agreed a preferred structure with them on a cost neutral basis.
“Analysis of the impact of any potential changes on individual fares, hauliers and sectors is currently being carried out and further details will be made available once conclusions have been reached.”