Shetland MSP and Scottish Liberal Democrat, Beatrice Wishart, has today (Wednesday) raised the impact of limited ferry freight capacity to the Northern Isles.
During a debate on Scotland's ferry services, Ms Wishart criticised that the Scottish Government's failure to deliver adequate freight capacity was "stifling the very means" for key local sectors achieving further growth.
Ms Wishart said "the impact of unreliable services cannot be under-estimated" as she highlighted examples of local firms facing reputational damage over difficulties posed by limited freight capacity.
Speaking after the debate, Ms Wishart said:
"Every aspect of island life revolves around transport and it must be robust and reliable.
"The Shetland seafood and aquaculture sectors have worked hard to build up global markets. The impact of inadequate ferry freight capacity and any delay to perishable products leaving Shetland cannot be under-estimated.
"Meanwhile, work on large construction projects is causing an increased volume of incoming freight and any delay there could send a wave of disruption along local supply chains.
"Ferries are lifeline services. The Scottish Government needs to act as if it understands that.”
Notes to editors
You can watch Ms Wishart's speech from 18:17:20 here.
A transcript of Ms Wishart's speech is as follows:
"Thank you (Deputy) Presiding Officer. And thank you to Jamie Halco Johnston for securing this important debate in the Chamber. Islanders know the vital importance of Scotland’s ferry services, regardless of which island community they serve.
"While people in the central belt rely on roads for their connectivity to business and social activities, island communities must rely on their lifeline ferries to do the same. Caring responsibilities, hospital appointments, and social situations including funerals, weddings and holidays, all rely on robust ferry services.
"The same can be said for visitors to the isles too. The strong tourism offer the islands have built up over many years also relies on robust ferry services. The impact of unreliable services cannot be under-estimated. Its impact is felt across the community — socially, culturally and economically.
"Shetland has growing seafood and aquaculture sectors and with two new fish markets, landings are likely to continue to increase. However, despite growth amongst key local sectors, the government has failed to take this into account and deliver adequate freight capacity. This is despite warnings that I and local industry leaders have repeatedly raised over many years to Transport Scotland and Ministers about growing freight capacity difficulties.
"Because if products do not reach their destination on time that impacts not only on the quality of perishables like salmon and other seafood, but on the producers’ markets. The customer is king, but they can be lost, and once lost they are unlikely to return. The commercial pressures faced by producers, hauliers and their customers are, to quote one industry leader, “quite intolerable”.
"Pinch points over the livestock season have also been known about for years. They are clearly known and foreseen. Earlier this summer, Liam McArthur and I warned about possible further disruption after the MV Arrow, previously serving Northern Isles routes, was chartered to assist CalMac. This came just weeks before the Northern Isles’ peak season for the movement of livestock. However, this is about more than “pinch points”. The government does not appear to recognise the contradiction in its policies of encouraging growth in food produce sectors on one hand, while on the other it is stifling the very means by which products can be exported to the waiting global markets.
"When questioned about the failure to ship trailers when needed during the peak livestock sales season the response has been that all trailers were shipped across the week. However, saying “across the week” demonstrates a lack of commercial misunderstanding of how these markets work. If trailers are not shipped on time the knock-on impact is very real, with local firms at risk of being hit by costly overnight levies, all the while as their trailers sit under-utilised on the quayside. This happens repeatedly despite local stakeholders feedbacking information to Transport Scotland.
"In terms of information, it would be helpful if the Minister could tell me what evidence Transport Scotland has on unmet need on both the freight and passenger service for the Northern Isles. How many times have companies been unable to ship their trailers or other vehicles at the time they needed? Is there any system in place to record unmet need, the number of times customers, whether business or domestic, cannot get the bookings they want when they need?
"Just this week I heard from a constituent who was advised by Northlink Ferries that they cannot book their January travel because they, Northlink, are waiting to hear from Transport Scotland before they can open up bookings. January is just nine weeks away. I’ve previously highlighted the case of a removals firm who had their ferry bookings cancelled at short notice. Their business reputation is just as important as other companies.
"The construction of the Viking Energy Wind Farm is underway in Shetland and that means an increased volume of incoming freight. Any delay in getting construction materials into Shetland on time because of freight capacity constraints could impact contractual obligations throughout the supply chain. And I note Viking’s reference to “sea freight restrictions” in their latest edition of Building Shetland’s Energy Future.
"Then there’s the current policy with concessionary ferry vouchers that has reduced the islander eligibility from two free return trips a year to one. I could continue at some length but time is against me. Suffice to say that islanders recognise the vital importance of Scotland’s ferries. It’s long past time that the Scottish Government acted as if they do too. Thank you Deputy Presiding Officer."