The Scottish Government is to extend Road Equivalent Tariff on the Sound of Harris and the Sound of Barra.  As part of this package, RET will no longer to available to the haulage industry, who will return to the discount system, which was in place prior to RET.  Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus Brendan MacNeil has reacted with mixed feelings to this announcement.

Angus MacNeil said:

“I believe it is a major mistake to remove RET from the haulage industry, I have spoken to one haulage company who has told me that costs will rise considerably with the removal of RET.  The whole point of RET is to help the economy of the islands, increasing transport costs for the haulage industry at a time of crippling fuel costs is disappointing.  As recessions go, the Hebrides have fared reasonably well, this was I am sure helped by RET.

“An additional way of assisting other commercial operators would be to review the pricing structure.  Currently vehicles over 5-metres in length pay considerable more, I have spoken to a number of commercial operators who are disadvantage because of this ruling, where their vehicles are just slightly over the 5-metres.  By increasing the length slightly, operators would benefit.

“While I welcome RET on the Sound of Harris and the Sound of Barra, capacity on the ferries could become a problem.  With this in mind, I would anticipate that additional sailings will be required to cope with the upsurge in vehicle and passenger numbers.

“I have argued for RET for many years, and before the SNP came to power reduced ferry costs will be of great benefit to the tourist industry but I feel this should not be to the detriment of the haulage industry which is the economic backbone of our economy.

“While all recessions are bad we can maybe argue that in comparison to past recessions this one has, comparative to other areas, not been so bad and I would argue this has been in the main due to RET.  Haulage costs to the Hebrides will go up and we must beware of the consequences of this.

“One of the problems is that the government in Edinburgh are feeling the pinch from the London cuts and why we need at the very least fiscal autonomy so that when Holyrood stimulates the economy, as it has done in the Hebrides through RET, that Holyrood gets the benefits in tax revenues.

“I believe this at the very least; the Scottish Government should carry out a consultation and seek the views of hauliers and the wider community before anything is implemented.

“I would like to hear people’s views on this; my own feeling is that the Scottish Government should think again before removing RET from hauliers who are great distances from the main markets.