Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston has said he recognises concerns that transport bottlenecks are “hindering” progress in developing economic activity in Orkney and Shetland.
Mr Halcro Johnston, the Scottish Conservative Shadow Minister for Business, was speaking after issues around ferry capacity were raised at a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Economy Committee this morning.
The committee is holding an inquiry into supply chain issues facing businesses and was taking evidence from the freight and distribution sector - including from Bryan Hepburn, operations manager for DFDS, who is based at the company’s Shetland Transport depot in Lerwick.
Responding to Mr Halcro Johnston’s questioning, Mr Hepburn highlighted the importance of both the Northern Isles’ internal ferry services and the ferry links with the Scottish mainland, with high value products such a salmon often having to use local ferries just to reach the Shetland mainland.
Mr Hepburn said new fixed links to some of the islands could be helpful, as well as larger, more reliable freight vessels which would allow for increased capacity, both for export and import.
Speaking later, Mr Halcro Johnston said: “As island communities, the importance of our internal and external ferry links need no explaining to local people and local businesses.
“However, it has long been acknowledged that, as well as the geographic disadvantages some local businesses can face because of location and because we are island communities, lack of adequate ferry and freight capacity has been hindering us from realising the full economic potential of the Northern Isles.
“That is clear from some of the evidence we heard in our committee inquiry, with businesses concerned that investment in our transport infrastructure is vital.
“We need to see fit-for-purpose ferries and freight boats on our inter-island and mainland routes, as well as improved road and rail links on mainland Scotland to allow goods to get to their ultimate destinations in a timely and cost-effective manner.
“Unfortunately, we have seen little recognition from SNP ministers in Edinburgh that they recognise the need for improved links within and from the islands, and no plan as to how they will improve them.
“The Scottish Government needs to raise its game, look beyond the Central Belt for once and come up with a long term plan for investment in our transport links and infrastructure here in the Northern Isles.”
The comments of Bryan Hepburn, Shetland-based operations manager, and his exchange with Jamie Halcro Johnston, can be viewed here: https://www.scottishparliament.tv/meeting/economy-and-fair-work-committee-november-24-2021?clip_start=11:31:37&clip_end=11:34:47