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Ferry fare anger

MSP Liam McArthur wants to see a cut in fares for those sailing on Serco NorthLink's ferries.

THE SNP government has come under criticism after announcing the “road equivalent tariff” (RET) would be applied to fares on all remaining west coast ferry route – but not to Shetland and Orkney.

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur condemned the decision to continue excluding every single route to, from and within the Northern Isles.

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McArthur and his Shetland counterpart Tavish Scott have frequently clashed with SNP ministers over the policy, which has brought down the cost of ferry travel in the Western Isles.

In response SNP figures have pointed out that applying RET to the lengthy ferry journey between Aberdeen, Kirkwall and Lerwick would likely lead to more expensive fares for islanders.

In a statement on Tuesday announcing the extension of RET to routes including Mull and Bute, Brown said: “The Scottish Government remains committed to assessing the affordability of ferry travel to and from our island communities, with the aim of bringing in cheaper fares for islanders, tourists and businesses.”

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But McArthur said transport minister Keith Brown’s “delight at extending cheaper ferry fares to every route on the west coast” would be met with a very different response in the absence of a similar cost-cutting scheme for those travelling to and from Shetland and Orkney.

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur.

“Excluding Orkney and Shetland from the RET scheme has been politically motivated from the outset,” he claimed.

“It has also laid bare this SNP government’s determination to base its ferries policy on pure electoral considerations.

“Reducing the cost of getting to and from our islands can deliver enormous economic and social benefits to these communities. That is why it should be a key commitment for any government. However it must be done on the basis of fairness to all.

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“Spending millions of pounds of public money targeting a scheme at some islands but not others will strike most people as unfair and unacceptable. Why the transport minister takes delight in this, only he can explain.”

On Tuesday Scott added his condemnation by suggesting the isles’ local authorities “must wonder why they speak to the Scottish Government” as part of the Our Islands Our Future (OIOF) campaign.

He wants to know whether the government has had discussions with Shetland and Orkney about RET for the islands’ internal ferries.

“OIOF is meant to be a serious negotiation with government over the assistance Shetland needs for our economic future,” Scott said. “Transport is always top of that list.

“So it beggars belief that the SNP announce another independence bribe for the west coast but ignore our islands.

“RET might help Shetland’s internal ferry services as fares are increasingly prohibitive. Yet the SNP government have not even offered our council any assistance on this.”

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