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Transport / Concern as NorthLink ferry fares due to rise by nearly nine per cent

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael condemned the move as an ‘eye-watering fare hike’

NorthLink passenger ferry Hjaltland arriving at Lerwick Harbour. Photo: Shetland News

FARES on the NorthLink ferry service will rise by nearly nine per cent next year – causing concern among local politicians.

It comes after fares were previously frozen instead of rising in line with inflation.

The move was sharply criticised by the three parliamentarians representing Shetland and Orkney in London and Edinburgh, describing the increase as “greedflation” coming from the country’s own public officials.

The Scottish Government said: “We know that this increase will be challenging for some as inflationary pressures continue on households, businesses and public services, but it comes against the backdrop of a real terms reduction in the total block grant from the UK Government.”

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said: “We have talked about ‘greedflation’ a lot in the context of the cost-of-living crisis but you do not expect it to come from our own public officials. It is hard to see how such an eye-watering fare hike – far above current inflation levels – is reasonable. This is price gouging by the SNP-Green Government, plain and simple.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart added: “While hugely disappointing we should not be surprised at the SNP-Green Scottish Government asking islanders to pay this increase.

“Having frozen fares for four years, it was inevitable that when a price increase came it was going to be excessive. A hike of nine per cent from April is going to hugely impact Shetland residents and will be especially hard for people on fixed incomes.”

The news has also been met with concern from local government, with chair of Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee Moraig Lyall saying she was “shocked” by the level of increase.

“As household incomes continue to feel the pressure of rising costs this will be an unwelcome additional burden for families looking to travel,” she said.

“Our local industry already operates with significantly higher costs than the rest of the country so this just adds to their difficulties in remaining competitive or even viable in some cases.

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“The Scottish Government fare review is due out soon and we need for it to address the issue of affordability for both individuals and businesses to protect jobs and households here in Shetland from the impacts this uplift will bring.”

Meanwhile North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson calling it a “mammoth hike” and questioning what consultation had taken place.

He suggested a family of five with a car could stand to pay £40-£50 extra on top of “what is already an expensive service”.

The 8.7 per cent price rise, which is also being implemented on the Western Isles ferry service, will take place at the end of March.

It is in line with the May 2023 CPI rate, as per the terms of the two contracts.

The government also said a fair fares review is “due to report in the coming months” with a view to ensuing future fares “continue to be affordable and sustainable” for both island communities and the government.

It comes as the Scottish Government gets set to unveil its draft budget for 2024/25 today (Tuesday).

The government added: “We have made significant investment in recent years to ensure that ferry fares are affordable, with fare freezes and the introduction of Road Equivalent Tariff.

“We invested in freezing ferry fares in 2023/24, rather than apply the contractual 9.1 per cent increase, in order to support island communities in Covid recovery and cost of living pressures.

“Over the period of the fares freezes, since 2019/20, the combined annual cost increase on Calmac and NorthLink has been £36 million.”

Thomson, however, said he was “amazed” cost of living pressures were mentioned whilst raising fares by nearly nine per cent.

He added that cost of living pressures have been in place in Shetland “long before this recent crisis, with general living up to 60 per cent more than on mainland Scotland”.

Bookings meanwhile are expected to open into the spring and beyond shortly.

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