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Community / NorthLink drops islander discount on meals and drinks with no explanation

A ‘blow to thousands of island travellers’ says transport committee chairman

Photo: NorthLink Ferries

SHETLAND MSP Beatrice Wishart says she will make representations with lifeline ferry operator NorthLink after the company dropped the islander discount on meal and drinks without warning.

Up until now islanders travelling on the Northern Isles’ routes enjoyed a 20 per cent discount on all meals and drinks enjoyed while on board the company’s passenger vessels.

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But last night (Wednesday) passengers were told the discounts were no longer available.

Wishart said the measure further disadvantages islanders, particularly those travelling on a tight budget.

She said: “I have been told by NorthLink that while the islander discount code is no longer available, the food and drink menu is reasonably priced and equal for all passengers. That misses the point.

“This is a lifeline service for islanders. In order to get to the mainland, some have no alternative.

“This isn’t like grabbing a coffee for a one-hour trip. It is a twelve-hour overnight trip and unreasonable to further disadvantage island passengers, and it will impact most those on a tight budget.

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“I am pursuing this to find out what discussions have been held before this policy came into place. It has come with little notice.”

Chairman of the council’s transport and environment committee, councillor Ryan Thomson, said he had no prior knowledge of the change.

“The news NorthLink have withdrawn the islander discount on food and drink is extremely disappointing and will come as a blow to thousands of island traveller,” he said

“It’s also yet another instance where island proofing isn’t being applied where it should be. No forewarning, no public consultation, it appears to have been done on the quiet in the hope that perhaps islanders wouldn’t notice.”

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NorthLink has so far not given any real explanation as to why the change has been introduced without prior warning or consultation with local people.

When asked for the reasons the company’s commercial director Jim Dow said NorthLink was “proud to offer an extensive food and drink menu on board that is very reasonably priced and equal for all passengers”.

When asked again a NorthLink spokesperson said the discount was always a temporary offering and it has now been decided to come to an end.

The company would however continue to work with local suppliers and was proud to showcase those partnerships, Dow said.

“While the islander discount code is no longer in place, all passengers do have access to a variety of choices and price points,” he added.

A request for interview remained unanswered.

Councillor Thomson has meanwhile also written to Serco NorthLink’s managing director Stuart Garrett urging him to reverse the decision.

He said: “We’ve made significant progress in reducing fares on our lifeline route, with discounts now in place for foot passengers and on cabins however this feels like first it giveth, then it taketh away.

“The residents of Shetland deserve better, the response that the prices are already reasonable is an entirely inadequate response.

“I will be writing to Transport Scotland along with a formal letter to Serco NorthLink requesting intervention and a reversal of this decision. Once again, Shetlanders are battling simply to maintain the status quo.”

Transport Scotland said the islander discount for meals and drinks was not a contractual issue of the lifeline service.

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