The Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee has considered a petition on ferry services to Jura from Joan Richardson of Jura Community Council. Jamie McGrigor, Highlands MSP, attended the meeting and spoke in support of the petition. The Committee agreed to seek answers from the Scottish Government on a number of issues.
Jamie McGrigor said: ‘As a Highlands & Islands MSP I want to congratulate my constituent Joan Richardson for raising this petition. The level of signatures it has attracted demonstrates the real strength of feeling that exists on the issue of lifeline ferry services.
‘I welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement of a Road Equivalent Tariff pilot project in February 2008 for the Western Isles. My concern- and the concern of my constituents- is that this pilot has excluded many island communities including Jura, Colonsay, Mull, Bute, and Islay, as well as the Orkney & Shetland Islands- and by excluding them has placed them at a definite economic disadvantage which has the potential to be very damaging. Concerns are felt particularly strongly as the pilot is such an extended trial- not just one year but 30 months. The difference in fare levels has been made even worse as the Scottish Government has frozen all fares within the RET pilot area while there will be a 3.8% increase for Calmac for 2009 elsewhere.
‘While Scottish Ministers have not ruled out extending RET to all routes after the pilot study this is of little comfort to many of my constituents who face no reduction in fares for at least three years; and it is of little comfort to the farmers, crofters, tourism-business owners and others who fear that the viability of their businesses will be put at risk by the relative disadvantage in which they have been put by Ministers.
‘The Scottish Government’s recently announced review of ferry services answers a part of my constituent’s stated aim in her petition but I hope Committee Members can ask the Transport Minister specifically to address now the concerns of those islanders who have been excluded from the RET project. They have legitimate concerns and Ministers have a duty to respond to them and before the conclusion of any review as we do run the risking of seeing further damage to already very fragile remote and rural economies in my region.’