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Campaigners to meet Mackay

SCOTTISH transport and islands minister Derek Mackay has agreed to meet campaigners seeking cheaper airfares to and from Scotland’s islands after the issue came under the microscope at Holyrood on Wednesday.

It follows airline Loganair agreeing to meet the campaigners in Shetland next Thursday after an outpouring of public anger at high prices saw the campaign chalk up more than 14,000 followers on its Facebook page in the space of 10 days.

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Responding to a question from Highlands and Islands MSP David Stewart in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, Mackay said he was “aware of the issues surrounding air fares in the Highlands and Islands”.

He said the government was continuing with the Air Discount Scheme (ADS) for island residents, adding: “I have agreed to meet MSPs and campaigners and also have asked for a scoping exercise to be carried out looking into the issue”.

SIC leader Gary Robinson said the scoping study was agreed at the islands area ministerial work group on 2 June.

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Following that announcement, campaigner Scott Preston – who founded the Facebook page – said he was keen to meet the minister following next week’s talks with Loganair.

“We’re delighted that the minister is willing to meet with a delegation from our group,” he said. “The support from people not just in Scotland but across the world, as well as from politicians across the political spectrum, has been fantastic. Our voice is simply too large to ignore.”

He said the campaign had always recognised that Loganair “does not bear full responsibility for the excessive cost of flying to and form the isles and that government plays a role”.

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“Next week’s meeting will ensure that we have a thorough understanding of what can be done at a governmental level to help tackle the scourge of excessive air fares.”

Meanwhile, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott – who as transport minister initiated the ADS back in 2006 – has reiterated his call for cuts to the scheme to be reversed.

He said: “The immediate step that the Scottish Government could take to reduce air fares for some would be to reverse the cuts they have made to ADS. That would be a big help to apprentices from the islands and others who have been excluded from a scheme they were previously entitled to use.”

Scott added: “I congratulate Scott Preston’s campaign and believe that Flybe [which operates the routes in partnership with Loganair] have to pay attention to the groundswell of support for lower air fares.”

His Orkney counterpart Liam McArthur said the campaign had “gone from strength to strength” and highlighted “growing concern about the impact these costs are having on local people in our islands”.

McArthur said: “At the same time, islanders are having to contend with a lack of reliability, which is also crucial in any lifeline provision.

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“I know from the many, many constituents who have been in touch that delays and cancellations are causing not just inconvenience but serious problems, including the loss of business and job opportunities.”

He said Mackay had agreed to meet the two MSPs next week, adding: “I look forward to discussing this with him next Tuesday, assuming my flight gets in on time!”

During infrastructure, investment and cities questions at Holyrood, Labour MSP Stewart asked the minister what was being done to address “sky high prices being charged by Flybe and Loganair on flights to and from the islands?”

Mackay replied: “I repeat that this government should be congratulated for agreeing to continue with the Air Discount Scheme.

“Fares are not the only issue, there is an issue around reliability and as indicated I am happy to meet campaigners, community groups and MSPs to look at options.

“I, too, share their concerns about the nature of services and operators should be mindful that they provide a lifeline service.”

Last week, Loganair’s PR company said the airline would not be giving any media interviews until its meeting with campaigners on 26 June has taken place.

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