Orkney is a fantastic place to live but in order to flourish, the right transport infrastructure involving ferries and planes, both internal and to the mainland, and buses is crucial. Future planning must be strategic and in Orkney’s best interests. We need a bit of mither wit too – timetables for different modes of transport should match up to ensure more use and less hanging around at ferry terminals or airports. If I’m elected as your MSP, I’ll be working with HITRANS, the Regional Transport Partnership tasked with improving the strategic transport services and infrastructure network across the region, to get the best possible service for Orkney and to push forward the SNP plans to dual the A9 which were scuppered by the Lib Dems and Labour in favour of Edinburgh’s trams.
Key factors in how Orkney’s ferries will develop are the Scottish Ferry Review of all ferry services and, most importantly, the Northern Isles Ferry review. If elected, I’ll be pushing for Orkney to retain the high quality service it already has with the diversity of routes providing the competition and regularity of service which meets our passenger, freight, and produce shipping requirements, including the ‘Hamnavoe’ route essential for the wellbeing of Stromness.
The SNP government has shown a willingness to work with the OIC for the benefit of Orkney and its people, and backed it up with positive action and hard cash. The Scottish Government has pledged to fully fund the estimated £1.5m upgrade of MV Shapinsay following a request from Orkney Islands Council, which has been looking at the best way to progress upgrading of the Orkney inter-island fleet.
The funding of the Shapinsay upgrade and the recognition in the Scottish Ferry Review of inconsistencies in how the various island groups have to finance their ferries shows that the SNP understands the issues that face our internal ferry services. This is an ongoing commitment - particularly about the contribution that the government can make to the ferry replacement programme. Orkney, unlike other island groups, has to have boats certified to sail in open water, with associated higher standards and costs.
We need the best possible option for Orkney; not just a one size fits all approach. The RET currently operating in the Western Isles and instigated by the then Lib Dem Transport Minister Nicol Stephen, is a trial and the results of this trial need to be analysed. RET has to be affordable in the long term, and its wider implications must be understood, before it can be embraced.
The internal air service should be looked at again. This was far more cost effective in years gone by as the Air Ambulance Service and Shetland shared the costs. Now there are less planes and it costs over £1 million a year to run, more than 3 times the cost before. If elected, I’ll be working on reinstating links with Shetland and the Air Ambulance Service to provide a better, fairer, and more economic service. The SNP has responded to what Orkney needs from an external air service by continuing the Air Discount Scheme.
Our bus services need to be re-evaluated to see whether they are serving needs. Unused services should be discontinued so that lifeline services can be fully funded.
The SNP has protected and will continue to protect concessionary travel for pensioners and will be extending it to disabled veterans.
However, underpinning all transport issues is the cost of the fuel itself. Here in Orkney – and it was the talk of the recent SNP Conference– we are at £7/gallon despite Flotta’s flare and the myriad tankers that traverse Scapa Flow. If elected, I’ll be fighting for a fuel duty regulator which will keep prices down – not just for the ordinary motorist, but for the buses, the ferries, and also haulage businesses where fuel can account for around 40% of running costs at today’s prices. In the past year fuel prices have gone up by at least 14% and in the last 28 months there have been 8 fuel duty hikes amounting to a 25% increase. That is bad for business and it is bad for us, the consumers.
The Tory-Lib Dem budget last week took in an extra £6bn through the North Sea Windfall Tax on Scotland’s oil – yet gave us back just a measly penny off a litre of petrol and seriously alienated the oil companies, placing £3 billion worth of projected investment at risk. The Tory-Lib Dem penny off the petrol could cost jobs across the oil industry and that includes Orkney. If Scotland had control over the massive North Sea revenues pump prices could be cut by 50p a litre. If I ‘m elected as your MSP, I’ll be fighting for this for you.
Let’s get the best deal for Orkney.