Shetland islanders express fears over new freight boat contract
Business owners and local politicians on the Shetland Islands face an anxious few days, as they wait to find out whether a new contract to run ferry services between the islands and the Scottish mainland includes a commitment to retain a commercially vital freight service.
Islands news website Shetnews.co.uk reported that the preferred bidder for the licence to run the service, Serco, is only committing itself to operating a year-round service with one boat, with another brought on stream for six months of the year.
A spokeswoman for Transport Scotland tried to calm fears that the service might be scaled back, thus affecting islanders' ability to get their goods – especially fresh fish – to the markets of Scotland.
She said: "Ensuring there is sufficient provision for time sensitive freight, such as fresh fish, to get to market on time was a core requirement of the tender and the new contract will ensure that happens.”
But the fine details of the new contract won't be known until it has been signed, which is due to happen next Tuesday, May 15.
Former chairman of Shetland transport partnership ZetTrans, Councillor Allan Wishart, said the government’s approach was “wrong” as islanders had not been consulted, and once the contract was in place, they would be powerless to change it.
“Once the deal is signed, I very much doubt whether there is going to be much room for manoeuvre. It will be too late."
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