Yesterday’s Shetland News reported Shetland MSP and former Scottish Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tavish Scott, on the attack after discounted fares have been substantially hiked by Serco – the controversial winner of the contract to provide ferry services to the Orkney and Shetland isles.
The MSP’s position is that the Scottish Government is disregarding the ‘lifeline’ status of the service to these islands in making the cost of transport for islanders substantially more expensive.
Mr Scott’s information is that:
- Discounts for seniors and students have been cut from 25% to 10%
- The former group discount scheme has been dropped in favour of a ‘sponsorship’ scheme for which specific application must be made and which is not yet in operation.
The group discount scheme has traditionally been used by sports clubs and schools in Shetland to make educational school trips to the mainland possible. The cost of such fares, according to Mr Scott, has now risen from £40 per pupil three years ago to £92 per pupil today.
This price level will deter schools in Shetland from making the visits to the mainland that enhance the cultural experiences of their pupils.
Mr Scott alleges that these price hikes have been imposed without due consultation.
Transport Scotland insist that there was consultation before the introduction of the new discount system. However, there seems to be something of a swerve going on here, since the detail they give is that specific consultation was carried out with ‘key local authority officials and regional transport partnerships’ while the new ferry contract was being drawn up.
If this is all they did, it would certainly not be the required public consultation with the affected groups – the passengers.
This statement also means that ‘key local authority officials and regional transport partnerships’ may have been complicit in agreeing, in advance of contract, future changes to the fare structure, which would disadvantage user groups.
It also means that these ‘key local authority officials and regional transport partnerships’ may have been complicit in keeping quiet about the coming fare hikes during the dispute over Serco being awarded that contract. The likelihood of a private sector profit taker hiking fares was a core issue of that dispute.
The nature of whatever consultation took place on this matter should be easy to demonstrate, since consultation cannot be an invisible or unrecorded process.
Now that Mr Scott knows the limits of that consultation, we suggest that he uses FoI again to discover its detail.
Mr Scott is saying that he has a letter from Transport Minister, Keith Brown, admitting that there was no consultation before the discounts were cut.
Transport Scotland say that Mr Scott has misinterpreted a document received under freedom of Information.