Following recent discussions on Orkney and in the Caithness Transport Forum about Pentland Firth services Rob Gibson SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands offered some pointers for consideration to the Caithness body on Pentland Firth services. The Ferries review closes on 30th September.
"Both publicly subsidised and private ferries must be included in the definition of 'lifeline' services. Analysis of the cargoes carried by the Pentalina such as LPG, sheep and caravans identify lifeline items. Therefore reality suggests a new perspective.
"Collaboration between all ferry providers is essential if islanders are to feel they have the best possible services to suit their needs. The definition 'Lifeline' cannot just be presented as applying to publicly provided boats alone. An agreement by operators is needed. This is particularly so since the Scrabster- Stromness service faces the full force of the Atlantic and is much more prone to cancellation or delay in heavy weather."
"The design and running costs of ferries require a major review. Future leases or purchases due with the next ferry tender in four year's time should be focused on modern ship designs that ply similar routes in the world. The public wants speedy ferries, not luxury ferries. The travelling public between Caithness and Orkney should not be asked to bear an unfair burden on CO2 reduction when news this week reveals that city commuters can't even leave their cars and use the buses. Fair shares in reducing greenhouse gas emission should not penalise the islands.
"Short sea routes are most economical as my colleague Alasdair Allan MSP for the Western Isles has highlighted. What is to prevent Orkney Islands Council from agreeing to make Burwick harbour in South Ronaldsay available at least for summer crossings for Andrew Banks' ferry?
"Scrabster and Stromness infrastructure for Northlink cost the tax payer many millions of pounds. Continued ferry services between these ports is desirable. However, the new tenders should specify modern designs of ships, run more economically, that need much less fuel as the Pentalina does, and also require far fewer crew as a consequence. Savings can best be made by improving services, not going slower. Of course new vessels can't be commissioned till the new tender period, but these specifications should be insisted on."