Tavish Scott and the PFI Ferry debacle
This cartoon first appeared in the January 2018 edition of iScot magazine. It accompanies an article by Fiona Grahame of The Orkney News called “Owre the ferry tae the islands.” The subject of the article is the provision of lifeline ferry services in the Northern Isles, which has become a major issue at every election.
Ferry services are unceasingly used by the Lib-Dems as a stick with which to beat the SNP government. The term RET (Road Equivalent Tariff) is practically a catchphrase for them at this point. It has appeared regularly in letters and political columns in the local press, and in mountains of election material pushed through letter-boxes.
In fact, provision of an affordable ferry service with fares in line with the rest of Scotland is not something that is easily delivered. The Liberal Democrats themselves bear some responsibility for this – something they would no doubt rather people forget.
In 2005, Lib-Dem MSP for Shetland, Tavish Scott, was transport minister in the Labour/Lib-Dem coalition government which awarded the contract to Northlink to build new boats. Due to this PFI-style contract, the resulting ferries will end up costing the public £200 million – twice what they are worth. It seems the Royal Bank of Scotland gets to pocket the difference. To cap it off, the ferries are also inefficient and expensive to run.
According to the late Danus Skene, SNP candidate for Orkney & Shetland, a passenger travelling from Aberdeen to Lerwick is effectively subsidised by £300 – far more than the Western Isles. In addition, RET cannot be applied across the board to every ferry route in the Northern Isles. Some fares would go down, but others would go up.
This is still a live and somewhat controversial issue, but in October 2017 Humza Yousaf, Scottish Government minister for Transport and the Islands, announced that a fall in fares is coming in 2018.
On the 7th of February 2018, the RMT transport union will be holding talks with representatives from all political parties (except the Tories!) on the subject of nationalising the Northlink ferry routes.
Update 7th of February 2018: ferry fares were addressed in the recent Scottish Budget. For more information visit theorkneynews.scot