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Farmers join fray over freight service

NorthLink cargo vessel Helliar at Aberdeen's Blaikie's Quay

FARMERS in the northern isles have slammed the Scottish government for failing to consult over the new contract for the lifeline ferry service, which had been due to be signed on Tuesday.

The National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) has now written to transport minister Keith Brown seeking assurances that the current level of freight service for livestock shipments will be maintained.

NFUS president Nigel Miller said farmers and crofters welcomed the “pause in the process” caused by rival bidder Streamline lodging a legal challenge to the government’s plan to award the contract to outsourcing multinational Serco Ltd.

Mr Miller said his members felt there had been a “disappointing level of contact between the company and key service users such as farmers during the tendering process”.

Farmers and crofters consider it vital to maintain the two freight vessels that operate all year round between Lerwick, Kirkwall and Aberdeen, and are convinced Serco planned to reduce this level of service.

Mr Miller wrote: “The tendering process did not make it clear, even at a late stage, what level of freight provision was to be provided by the preferred bidder.

“That was a worry to many of our members given that the freight service is clearly critical to the economic wellbeing of the islands and will play a significant role in future economic development.

“Livestock movements are a key part of the islands’ economy with significant seasonal demand. During the summer and autumn peak marketing period, it is vital that shipping capacity is available to both Shetland and Orkney.

“Until such times as the tendering issue has been resolved, we welcome reassurances that the current provision will continue and a more open discussion of future services can now take place.”