Dear Orkney News,
I read the report of the non-implementation of Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) in Orkney in last week’s Orcadian with incredulity. If I may remind readers – this is actually an agreed Scottish Government policy, and the lack of a roll-out of RET in Orkney during 12 long years is one of the most blatant examples of policy unfairness in Scotland that it’s possible to find at present. Moreover, to use the excuse for further delays on new UK guidance on subsidy is disingenuous to say the least, and, in my view, is a mere political tactic to kick the issue into the marine equivalent of the long grass for a further extended period.
The implementation of RET in Orkney is now an urgent requirement to assist recovery from the COVID pandemic, to help restore our ailing tourism sector which contributes an important £70 million to the Orkney economy. Domestic UK ‘staycations’ will be of critical importance to tourism recovery here in the immediate future, and with the vaccination programme eating well into the 2021 season, it’s now vital that our external and domestic ferry fares are given parity with every other island community in Scotland.
Of course, unfairness and ferries as a political issue in Orkney doesn’t stop with RET. In 2018 the Scottish Green Party won an additional £5.5 million for Orkney’s hopelessly under-funded domestic ferries as part of the annual budget settlement with the Scottish Government. This had a very positive, if temporary, operational impact. Unfortunately with an ageing fleet, budget balances have subsequently regressed and OIC could be as much as £1 million adrift for funding for ferries at the end of this financial year.
Foremost in the additional actions required ahead to restore fairness around ferries alongside RET and funding is to agree an urgent ferry replacement programme with a renewable fuel component to help reduce the high carbon emissions of the marine sector. In short, we need the Scottish Government to prioritise our ferries, with service improvements to match improvements on the West coast via Calmac.
Orkney Greens will therefore continue to prioritise ferries as we enter this year’s election campaign. All voters will have an opportunity ahead to remind the Scottish Government that this is a critical issue for we islanders, and we should demand support, parity and fairness for our ferries. In turn, your electoral support with your second vote would be most welcome next May.
Yours faithfully Councillor Steve Sankey, Orkney Greens Co-convenor