Following the meeting last Friday with the Outer Hebrides Commerce Group (OHCG), Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus MacNeil said:
“It is regrettable again that the OHCG put aside being a campaign group for the partisan political, are the OHCG leadership a political group or a campaigning group, despite ending the meeting last Friday saying a more constructive approach would be better. I am bemused why the OHCG are trying to paint the islands as a more expensive destination, it is not true, and potentially very damaging to the tourist economy. The majority of users are still enjoying RET, despite the budgetary pressures from Westminster on the Scottish budget.
“There is no mention from the OHCG that fares are cheaper than they would have been under Labour’s continuous increases over the years for hauliers but especially for cars and passengers. I am somewhat bemused that the OHCG are now calling a subsidy a tax if that is the view they should be clear and say the Labour Tax was higher. Political knockabout is fine, but probably not helpful for a campaign group who want to have influence, members of the group may want to look at where its leadership is taking it, at the moment it’s a merry dance of the party political.
“Had they put the same energy into implementing RET in 2008 rather than over 4 years, or even dropping the politics and circling the wagons around the interim deal we had, there would have been a lot less room for complaint today but playing politics seemed to override the transport issues.
“It is a fact that the MVA consultancy report quotes: “Establishing whether RET savings were passed through requires defining what is meant by being ‘passed through’. The majority of hauliers accepted that when the RET tariff was introduced, they did not pass on the full savings to a majority of customers6 in a recalculation of transport charges to their clients, although the larger supermarkets demanding ‘open book’ pricing did see their charges fall.
6 The previous Halcrow report evaluating the impact of RET found that 22% of 160 companies had seen a reduction in transport charges after the introduction of RET, while the majority ie 61% responding that savings were ‘never passed’ on.
“It is important that we all work for lower fares and open haulage for the islands. The report by MVA consultancy on the removal of fares said, “The majority of hauliers accepted that when the RET tariff was introduced they did not pass on the full savings to a majority of customers.” Although, “larger, supermarkets demanding open book pricing did see their prices fall.” I would however argue that over the 4 years the reduction was passed on but that this was due to general inflation and fuel price increases.
“I would like to see the re-establishment of RET for haulage but realise that while the Westminster Government with its austerity driven ideology is cutting the Scottish Government’s budget, this is difficult before independence, therefore all involved have a part to play by working together.
“Hauliers have to be transparent about prices for all customers to see, they have to state what the reductions would be, if we manage to reduce fares again, so that we never again face the situation where people can say the discount was not passed on.
“On air travel, the OHCG agreed to demand on councillors that they should release the details of the point-scoring exercise prior to the cuts, so the public see openly what decisions their elected councillors made to cut flights.
“The meeting also felt that the Stornoway to Benbecula and Benbecula to Barra services should be returned to its previous five-day service, as the cut was inevitably bad for commerce, bad for the community and bad for health provision, which impacts everybody in many ways.
“We must be careful to not talk down the achievements of the last few years, passengers and cars are enjoying RET fares; this is an important message to our exiled community and visitors. Such talk is potentially damaging where it is not accurate.
“Lorry fares are also lower than they would have been and cars and passenger much more so and we are a long way, from the time when Labour refused to do anything for island ferry transport and were foolishly describing the prospect of lower fares as ‘The economics of the madhouse’.”