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SIC slams plans for ferry cutbacks

COUNCILLORS in Shetland have rounded on the Scottish government for trying to run down their lifeline ferry links to Aberdeen, accusing them of breaking their own rules.

On Tuesday Shetland Islands Council’s infrastructure committee accused Holyrood of being completely out of touch with island life in its attempts to save £1 million on the NorthLink route.

This year transport minister floated eight options for saving money, all of which were firmly rejected by members as “wholly unacceptable” and “ridiculous”.

The options included slowing down the two passenger vessels to save fuel, tying up one of the vessels during the winter, reducing the number of calls the vessels make at Kirkwall and increasing fares.

Rather than accepting a deterioration in the service, the council intends to deliver a robust response” to Mr Stevenson and lobby finance secretary John Swinney when he visits Shetland later in September.

Committee vice chairman Allan Wishart warned that the proposals, which come on top of all the other government spending cuts, could be compared to closing down one of the lanes of the M8 between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Councillor Gussie Angus said the government failed to understand that the NorthLink service was a lifeline service that “affects everybody living in Shetland and is a vital economic tool”.

He also slammed the design of the current passenger vessels Hjaltland and Hrossay, branding them too small and “the least efficient vessels in northern Europe”.

He said the only way forward was introducing larger and more efficient vessels on the route, in line with Orkney-based shipping consultant Professor Alf Baird’s report from 2006.

Lerwick North member Caroline Miller suggested “tearing up” the government’s consultation on ferry cuts, and sending convener Sandy Cluness and Mr Angus to Edinburgh to make the isles’ case.

Shetland South representative Rick Nickerson added: “We need to send a clear political message from this chamber that these options are not acceptable. The government has clearly not done their homework”

North Isles councillor Laura Baisley wondered if the Scottish government was adhering to its own guidelines. “Does the government not have to go through the STAG (Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance)?” she asked.

Head of transport Michael Craigie said he believed the Scottish government were not complying with the “principles” they were expecting from local authorities.

Meanwhile councillors will attend two workshops on 14 September to frame responses to two other ferry documents, the Scottish Ferries Review Consultation and the Northern Isles Services Consultation, which will lead up to the renewal of the lifeline ferry contract in July 2012.

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