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Changes to NL timetable postponed

THE SCOTTISH government has backtracked on its plans to impose changes to the NorthLink lifeline ferry operation as of May this year after massive protests form the communities in Shetland and Orkney.

Last month, transport minister Stewart Stevenson announced changes to the timetable by ordering both vessels to reduce speed and run on two engines to save fuel.

The changes, which came out of the blue without any consultation, would have lengthened the journey times on the 14 hour Lerwick to Kirkwall and Aberdeen sailing by 90 minutes.

Yesterday (Friday), Mr Stevenson said the SNP government had agreed to postpone the changes until autumn and seek alternative efficiency savings in consultation with the communities affected.

The news was welcomed by Shetland and Orkney politicians, who warned that the hostilities against any changes would not go away by a simple postponement.

But the transport minister said it was inevitable to make some savings as he would still seek £1 million of savings from the annual government support towards the service, which in 2010/11 would amount to £103 million.

He said: “We are committed to ensuring all remote and fragile communities are linked into the wider Scottish economy and we are working with NorthLink to identify areas where efficiencies can be made while still providing the lifeline services the northern isles expects.

“After consultation with stakeholders, the island councils and local communities, ministers have now decided that any change will be postponed until autumn while discussions continue with NorthLink about alternative opportunities for efficiencies.

“Ministers have asked NorthLink in particular to look at efficiencies on the winter services when there is a large amount of unused passenger capacity on the Aberdeen-Lerwick route.”

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said the minister’s decision was not a u-turn.

“It’s just a postponement of this SNP cut, a cut which has been targeted at Orkney and Shetland while the Western Isles continues to enjoy their reduced ferry fares introduced under the disguise of a Road Equivalent Tariff pilot.

“Given the hostility these plans have rightly attracted, it’s no wonder that ministers want to postpone them until after the General Election.

“But the hostility the plans will meet then will be just as strong as which they are meeting now.”

 

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