It may have been a long time in planning, but I truly welcome last week’s announcement by my colleague Humza Yousaf that ferry fares to and from Orkney and Shetland will fall considerably.
It means that our party has kept its election manifesto promise to islanders. And while Humza used a visit to Shetland to reveal the news that passenger fares will be cut by over 40% and car fares will drop by more than 30% on average, he confided in me that he thoroughly enjoyed his time in Orkney as well!
I know, having had several meetings with him, that Humza – as Minister for Transport and the Islands – has been working hard to make Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) work for the Northern Isles. While RET will now be applied on the Pentland Firth routes, a variant of the scheme takes into account the greater distances for Aberdeen services. The new fare scheme will be launched in the first half of 2018, benefitting island residents and visitors alike.
While next year’s fares have yet to be set, an example based on 2017 fares would mean a peak season trip from Scrabster to Stromness for two folk with a vehicle would cost about £42, compared to £68.46 for islanders and £97.80 for non-islanders just now.
It will certainly make ferry travel to and from the Northern Isles even more attractive. It also brings fares into line with those on the Clyde and Hebrides network, supporting the Scottish Government’s aim of having one fares policy across Scotland’s ferry services.
Of course – and bearing in mind recent discussions around tourist tax – a detailed analysis is being carried out on the potential impact on demand. Investigations into how to mitigate capacity issues will be crucial given the likely rise in passenger numbers.
This move clearly shows the Scottish Government’s commitment to island communities including Orkney, and it will ensure lifeline ferry services remain affordable for islanders, whilst boosting the Orkney economy.
Further good news for Orkney was Justice Secretary Michael Matheson’s announcement that rape crisis services in the islands will receive an extra £38,000 to increase staff. Having met with Orkney Rape Crisis earlier this year I know how crucial this service is, and welcome the fact that the funding has helped them employ two new part-time staff, who started work this week.
He also announced a training programme that will allow forensic medical examinations for victims of sexual crimes to take place in rural communities, after the Scottish Government granted £76,000 of funding to the pilot project.
Folk in Orkney and Shetland first highlighted that victims of sexual crimes had to travel to the Scottish mainland – by police escort and without a wash – for examination. It’s an issue all over rural Scotland though, and NHS Education Scotland will use the grant to fund up to 50 places for doctors next year.
Yet another example of a government which listens to all of its communities and finds solutions!
This is a regular column by local MSP Maree Todd, SNP