NORTHERN Isles MSPs have repeated calls for greater freight capacity on the ferry routes connecting Orkney and Shetland with the mainland.
Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur’s request comes after the two freight boats Helliar and Hildasay, which had been leased, were bought by the Scottish Government.
The Shetland seafood sector has in particular voiced frustration over freight capacity on the Northern Isles route, with hopes from some that there could be a dedicated cargo service for the isles.
The Northern Isles ferry contract is currently out to tender in the view of being awarded in August, with current operator Serco NorthLink, CalMac and FRS in the frame.
“Last year, we saw £2 million worth of fresh fish being left overnight in Lerwick because there was not enough space on the passenger vessels departing for Aberdeen,” the MSPs said.
“An unmitigated disaster was only then averted at the 11th hour after a third freight vessel was temporarily leased by Serco NorthLink to cope with demand. Meantime, Orkney Mart has raised similar concerns about the risks to the farming sector in Orkney.
“The current operator has prepared reasonable, evidence-based options for including a third freight vessel within the current fleet. Despite earlier assurances from the first minister, however, the Scottish Government has failed to respond to those proposals or explain why such capacity is not needed. That is not good enough.
“Not only does it pose a threat to the economies of Orkney and Shetland, it also undermines efforts to maximise the contribution that the Northern Isles make to the Scottish economy in future.”
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said in response: “We have undertaken extensive consultation with local communities and key stakeholders in the two years leading up to the tender for the next contract to operate the Northern Isles Ferry Services 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.”
NEARLY 100 budding musicians have put themselves forward for the 2019 Shetland Young Fiddler of the Year competition.
The popular event, which will take place at Mareel in Lerwick on 26 and 27 April, will see 165 performances take place.
On the judging panel will be the returning Rock, Salt and Nails fiddler Linda Gair and Orcadian Jennifer Wrigley, while John Robert Deyell, who has played with acts like Aert Kyent, Hom Bru and the Andrew Tulloch Band, will feature for the first time.
“I am incredibly honoured to have been asked to be part of the judging panel and I’m really looking forward to hearing the talent that Shetland youngsters have to offer,” Deyell said.
The junior and intermediate fiddlers will perform throughout the day on the Friday (26 April) and the senior competitors will compete the following day.
The public are free to come along at any time to show their support, while tickets are now on sale for the Young Fiddler concert in Mareel on the Saturday night.
NHS Shetland was one of nine health boards in Scotland to meet a cancer treatment waiting time target between October and December.
The 31 Day Standard states that 95 per cent of all patients will wait no more than 31 days from decision to treat to first cancer treatment.
NHS Shetland had 23 eligible referrals for this target, and 95.7 per cent were treated within 31 days.
The health board, however, did not meet the 62 day standard target, which states that 95 per cent of patients urgently referred with a suspicion of cancer will wait no more than 62 days from referral to first treatment.
There were 19 eligible referrals from 1 October to 31 December, and 78.9 per cent were treated within the target time.
Only one of Scotland’s health boards – NHS Lanarkshire – met this target.
However, the latest statistics report says that “NHS Shetland is reliant on NHS Grampian for a significant proportion of diagnostics, staging and treatment”.
“All breaches were affected by waits for Grampian services; clinic appointments or surgery waits,” it added.