The delay to Orkney getting RET style subsidised ferry fares due to the lack of agreement with one commercial operator has led Pentland Ferries to invite Michael Matheson MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity in the Scottish Government to the islands.
Shetland now receives a cut to their ferry fares of 20% but is unable to get the full reduction which should be applied due to the impasse with the situation in Orkney. Ferry Fares: Delay in Orkney – Shetland 20%
Pentland Ferries state that they are keen to see the implementation of the Scheme in Orkney but they are questioning its legality.
Andrew Banks, Managing Director and Owner of Pentland Ferries said:
“We want these passenger subsidies implemented as soon as possible but we need to be 100% sure that the scheme complies with state aid rules.
“We have never had any subsidy from government and even though this scheme gives money to the passenger not the operator, the Minister has told us that we would be liable for any repayment, if at a future date the scheme is deemed illegal. This could run into the millions and could finish us off.
“We cannot take that risk and we have responsibility to our staff, our community and family to make sure the scheme works for everyone.
“We want to work with the Minister and his team to discuss a way forward so that we can all benefit from reduced fares. This scheme will be fantastic for our business, attracting more visitors to the islands and making it cheaper to travel to the mainland for residents. So we want this unlocked as soon as possible.
“We welcome the Minister’s willingness to gain a full understanding of the detail and very much hope to be able to meet him in Orkney soon.”
Michael Matheson said:
“The Scottish Government remains committed to delivering reduced ferry fares to the Northern Isles.
“On routes to Orkney, it has been necessary to engage with commercial operators on the Pentland Firth.
“We set out a very fair and reasonable proposal that would maintain competition, enabling them to protect their existing market share.
“Unfortunately, not all the commercial operators have felt able to agree to our proposals.
“This means we cannot currently implement reduced fares on any of the routes to and from Orkney without the risk of legal challenge.
“This is both disappointing and frustrating, but I am determined to work through the issue to see what more can be done.
“I have asked Transport Scotland to undertake some further work to see what measures, if any, we can take. As part of that, we are willing to reopen talks with commercial operators.
“I will provide a further update to stakeholders and to Parliament as soon as I can, with a view to bringing the full benefits of the scheme to the people of Orkney and Shetland.”
Paul Wheelhouse Minister for the Islands has also met with Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat MSP for Orkney to keep him informed about the ongoing situation.
As we went to publication the Minister, Michael Matheson, had not yet received the invite from Pentland Ferries.