The Scottish Government is being urged to bring in cheaper ferry fares for passengers to Orkney, more than decade after they were first rolled out in other parts of Scotland.
Orkney Islands Council leader James Stockan said the end of the Brexit transition period had removed any possible obstacle to the introduction of road equivalent tariff (RET) on inter-island routes and those to mainland Scotland.
“This milestone takes away any concerns ministers might have about the need for further engagement with the European Commission before RET is implemented for our community,” he said.
“There is absolutely nothing now preventing the government from significantly reducing the cost of ferry travel for our residents and visitors, ending the many years of disadvantage Orkney has suffered when compared to other island communities in Scotland.”
RET was introduced as a pilot on a number of west coast ferry routes in 2008. It was rolled out on all Clyde and Hebrides routes by October 2015, with fares on routes to Shetland reduced in 2018.
The aim is to ensure that ferry fares are broadly similar to the cost incurred by someone driving the same distance as the ferry route.
The government has previously been pressed on the issue after an earlier deadline was missed.
Mr Stockan has now asked Paul Wheelhouse, the minister for energy, connectivity and the islands, for urgent talks on introducing RET equivalent fares as soon as possible.
He said: “We want to engage positively with the Government on this. RET equivalent fares will have a hugely beneficial impact for Orkney – reducing fares that are far higher than those on equivalent routes elsewhere in Scotland.
“Ending this inequality will remove a major barrier standing in the way of Orkney’s recovery from the enormous impact the pandemic has had on our community and local economy.
“I’m asking the minister to work with us in finally rolling out RET equivalent fares for Orkney – a move critical to our economic recovery, which will have an immediate impact on the daily lives of folk in some of our most fragile communities and provide a welcome boost for our tourism businesses as we look forward with hope to a brighter 2021.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Following the December 31 publication by the UK Government of its guidance on implementation and operation of subsidy rules, we are working through this to understand what it means for Scottish Government subsidies, including ferries, and will discuss this with our local authority partners, including Orkney Islands Council, when we are able to discuss the implications of the new guidance.”
She said there will be no changes to ferries policy while the work on understanding compliance matters continues.