NEW transport and islands minister Humza Yousef has pledged to reduce ferry fares on the northern isles lifeline route in his first statement since taking on his new role this week.
In a statement issued on Friday, Yousaf said the new SNP-led Scottish government was “committed to…taking action to reduce fares on ferry services to Orkney and Shetland”.
His comments came as campaigners for lower fares requested a meeting with the new minister to encourage him to act swiftly on his pledge.
The Glasgow Pollok MSP said he intended to act as “a champion” for island communities within government to “reflect their unique needs and aspirations”.
As chair of the government’s Islands Strategic Group, he will develop a National Islands Plan and bring forwards an Islands Bill “that will give islands a stronger voice than ever before”.
He added: “Alongside this, we are committed to maintaining the Air Discount Scheme at 50 per cent; protecting the Road Equivalent Tariff to all routes in the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry services network; and taking action to reduce fares on ferry services to Orkney and Shetland.
“We are also committed to supporting enterprise and ensuring superfast broadband is extended to all premises by 2021.
“A £5 million investment will support island and rural produce, while we will continue to champion the energy industry, pushing the UK government to progress the necessary EU consent and bring forward a viable package of support that will facilitate the vital grid connections to the Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.
“We will continue to support new wave energy technology through Wave Energy Scotland and the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney.
“Once Crown Estate revenues are devolved, island communities will be able to control and determine how to invest locally raised Crown Estate revenues.
“This will ensure that Scotland’s coastal and island communities get to control and decide how to invest 100 per cent of net revenues raised from Crown Estate marine assets out to 12 nautical miles.”
Meanwhile the pair behind the Fair Ferry Fares for Orkney and Shetland Facebook page have asked the new minister for a meeting to discuss the government’s plans to cut fares.
An online petition set up by Ryan Thomson of Tagon Stores was approaching 2,400 signatures on Friday, while the Facebook campaign page has almost 1,500 followers.
Fellow campaigner James Stewart, who was involved in the effort to reduce air fares to and from Shetland last year, said they wanted to ensure the government kept its campaign promise.
He said the air fares campaign, which managed to secure a compassionate fare policy from Loganair, had demonstrated the power of a social media campaign influencing decision makers.
He added: “The high cost of travel is damaging to our business community, local families and our vital tourist trade.
“The minimum cost of a non-islander family of five travelling to Shetland with a car is about £750 – £66 per hour that you’re on the ferry. When families are faced with that bill, they’ll simply choose to not visit the island.
“I would encourage everyone in Orkney, Shetland and beyond to sign the petition and follow the page on Facebook.
“The experience of running the Islanders for Fair Air Fares campaign demonstrated the power of local communities rallying behind a cause.”