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Transport / Seafood industry furious with Transport Scotland

Tender will deliver ‘best possible ferry service’, government says

NorthLink freight boat Hildasay arriving in Lerwick. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News
The local seafood industry had hoped for a dedicated Shetland freight service. Photo: Shetland News

THE LOCAL seafood and haulage industries have expressed its frustration with Transport Scotland after a request for a dedicated Shetland to Aberdeen freight service has been ignored.

On Wednesday, the Stewart Building Transport Group (SBTG) said that the government agency’s continued lack of understanding Shetland’s specific transport needs “seriously inhibit(s)” the industry’s future growth potential.

Transport Scotland said in response that they “disagreed with the portrayal of the tender.”

Last week the agency published the tender documents for the next northern isles ferry lifeline contract, which will be awarded later this year to one of three bidders.

SBTG, a stakeholder’s consultation forum representing the various sectors of the isles £350 million seafood industry as well as local haulage companies, has been involved in detailed discussions with Transport Scotland for many months with the aim to secure a dedicated freight service for Shetland.

In September last year over £2 million worth of fresh fish was left behind on Lerwick’s quayside because there wasn’t enough space on the ferries.

But to the disappointment of local politicians and many seafood producers the tender documents only specify that 18 slots will have to be made available for time sensitive products on board the passenger ferries.

Seafood Shetland chief executive Ruth Henderson has now called on the government to reconsider, even at this late stage in the process.

Seafood Shetland chief executive Ruth Henderson. Photo: Shetland News
Seafood Shetland chief executive Ruth Henderson. Photo: Shetland News

Speaking on behalf of the Stewart Building Transport Group, she described Transport Scotland’s failure to deliver an adequate freight service as “shameful”.

“It is extremely frustrating that after all the work that has been done, the procurement team at Transport Scotland still lacks both an understanding of the current freight requirements and the vision to accommodate the boost in freight activity that is set to take place over the coming months and years,” she said.

Henderson added that competing for the 18 dedicated slots with supermarket deliveries and other urgent freight consignments would create difficulty for the ferry operator as to what takes priority.

“It is clear that the passenger service is heavily supported by the commercial success of the freight operation. Without such support, Transport Scotland would be looking at much heavier subsidies on the passenger service,” she continued.

“Yet the scant regard for this is evident in a tender document that runs to some 53 pages, but covers time sensitive freight in a single paragraph.

“It is shameful that as our seafood sector continues to thrive and grow, and the new fish markets come online, we will be seriously inhibited by Transport Scotland’s failure to deliver an adequate freight service.

“We ask Transport Scotland, as a matter of urgency, how the current proposals were arrived at, and, even at this late stage, request the agency to reconsider.

“Addressing the shortcomings in the proposed way forward is absolutely crucial for our thriving but now severely threatened industry – an industry, we would remind Transport Scotland, which is worth some £350 million to the Scottish and wider UK economy.”

“A spokesman for Transport Scotland said: “We have undertaken extensive consultation with local communities and key stakeholders, including Shetland’s seafood industry, and Shetland Islands Council in the two years leading up to the tender being issued.

“We believe the tender will deliver the best possible ferry service that meets the needs of the communities of Shetland and provide value for money to the taxpayer.

“The next contract will allow flexibility so that, where resources allow, it will make it possible to potentially add additional tonnage, new routes and sailings to best reflect prevailing market conditions.”