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Ferry operator vows to fight ‘unfair’ government support after losing Court of Session battle

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A ferry company has lost its fight at the Court of Session against what it claimed were “unfair” subsidies to operators on northern sailing routes to Orkney and Shetland.

The Court of Session ruled that subsidised sailings between Orkney and the mainland, operated through a tender by a contractor on behalf of the Scottish Government were lawful, allowing the process to find a new operator to continue.

However, while claiming it was only looking for a “level playing field”, the family-owned Pentland Ferries operator responded it was now waiting for a decision by the European Court “to see sense” on what it regards as the “unlawfulness” of a £370million subsidy for the Scrabster and Aberdeen routes to Orkney.

This claim to the European court has delayed the introduction of cheaper fares on the route through the Scottish Government’s flagship road equivalent tariff scheme.

But Orkney MSP Liam McArthur insisted the ruling in the Court of Session meant the tendering process should continue with immediate effect.

Mr McArthur said: “Hopefully, this will allow the uncertainty that has hung over the tendering process to be lifted.

“These are lifeline services for the Orkney and Shetland communities, which will now expect improvements to be delivered during the course of the next contract period.”

However, in expressing frustration at the Court of Session ruling, a spokesman for Pentland Ferries said: “We are extremely disappointed with today’s decision and will now take some time to reflect and decide on our next steps.

“All we are asking for, as a family owned, subsidy-free local business is to be allowed to operate on a level playing field.”

The spokesman added: “We are not asking for the Stromness to Scrabster route to be abandoned, nor are we requesting any funding for ourselves.

“We are simply challenging whether the proposed level of subsidy – £370million over the next tender period, a significant proportion of which relates to the Pentland Firth route – is necessary and proportionate, considering that we have now operated for 18 years without a penny of government assistance.

“There is an ongoing European Commission investigation into this matter and we are hopeful that their verdict will assist in a future that safeguards our service and enables us to operate in a fairer business environment.”

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