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Letters / It’s about inclusion!

In light of the recent announcements regarding changes to NorthLink’s service, (Concession rate drop sparks island ire, SN, 27 March 13) I felt it my  responsibility as member of the Scottish Youth Parliament for Shetland to raise the concerns of the young people of Shetland with Stuart Garrett, managing director of NorthLink (Serco).

I wrote a letter detailing my concerns and requesting the initiation of a dialogue between myself and Serco regarding the group discount system and the reduction in student discount.

The reduction in fare discounts available to concessions will mean the cost of travelling between Shetland and university will increase by 15 per cent for students.

Students who are from Shetland already pay a higher cost to travel home than students from other parts of Scotland. I appreciate that this reduction to 10 per cent is in line with other service discounts on mainland Scotland but a 12, or sometimes 14, hour journey home is not in line with the journey home made by other students via bus or train.

I do not believe this reduction can be justified by simply making reference to other discounts around the country. We are in a unique situation living so far away from mainland Scotland and I believe that this greater concession rate reflected this and should be maintained at 25 per cent.

It has also been announced that the way in which the group discount scheme will operate will change. This is a concern for young people across the isles, whose sports teams and other groups often rely on this group discount in order to be able to compete on mainland Scotland.

The details of the new system offer no assurances to clubs/groups with existing arrangements that their discount will be maintained. If they were not to be allocated sponsorship then many groups would not be able to be included in leagues or competitions within Scotland. This would negatively impact on the individuals as these events offer a goal and incentive to train hard.

There is also something to be said in relation to inclusion. We are an island community but we are still an important part of Scotland and there is no good reason why our right to compete against other teams or individuals should be affected simply because we need to use a ferry in order to attend events.

The support given by NorthLink to our clubs and teams previously was extremely valuable and I would be disappointed to see Serco abandon this consistent, reliable support.

Online, Serco states to be ‘proud to provide a lifeline ferry service for Northern Isles residents.‘ I believe that an element of providing this lifeline service is to look at what is important to the northern isles’ communities.

Both the concessionary discount and the group discount scheme were vital to ensuring our lifeline service continued to keep us connected and included within Scotland.

I would urge Serco to consider the greater impact of these changes on our young people and students. As an island community, we are constantly trying to make Shetland an attractive place for the younger generations to live and it appears that these changes fly in the face of the mentality of the isles.

I have been in contact with students regarding the issue and the Young Scot Youth Legacy Ambassadors for Shetland. I also raised the concerns of these individuals in my letter.

I look forward to hearing from Mr Garrett and to working with NorthLink to ensure that unfair changes are not implemented without public consultation.

Emily Shaw
MSYP Shetland