The Scottish Government is engaging with the European Commission following a state-aid complaint that was made to it by a private operator on 8 June 2018 regarding our plans to reduce ferry fares to the northern isles. Scottish Government officials met Commission officials on 12 November, and we await a formal view from the Commission regarding next steps.
In June 2018, we reduced passenger and car fares on routes to Shetland by 20 per cent. That was possible to implement, as it did not affect Orkney services. We remain committed to pursuing all avenues to reduce fares for Orkney and Shetland.
Next month marks 12 months since RET was supposed to have been rolled out on ferry routes that serve Orkney and Shetland. Over that time, people who use those lifeline routes have been forced to continue to pay over the odds. Will the minister commit to reinforcing with the Commission the urgent need to conclude its investigation, reach a decision, and allow those who rely on those lifeline services a fair deal? Will he also commit to ensuring that the moneys that have not been spent on RET over the past year are directed to supporting the internal ferry services in Orkney and Shetland?
On Liam McArthur’s first point, I reassure him that we continue to engage with the European Commission on the state-aid complaint that was made by a private operator. We wrote to the Commission recently in light of Lord Boyd of Duncansby’s judgment in relation to the judicial review in the Court of Session. Liam McArthur will, of course, be aware that there is a potential appeal to that decision, so I cannot comment further. I reassure Liam McArthur, however, that we continue to engage with the Commission to urge a resolution to the state-aid complaint as quickly as possible.
Liam McArthur’s second point, we have discussed the use of the funding allocated for RET for internal ferry services. That issue was raised by Councillor Stockan, Orkney Islands Council’s leader, when I met him recently in the Parliament. Orkney Islands Council has committed to taking the issue away and engaging with local stakeholders—I presume that that includes Mr McArthur and other local elected members—to discuss the issue further. I remain open to holding further discussions with the council.
That issue has indeed been raised and, as Donald Cameron may be aware, there was, for a period, the risk that there might be a judicial review of any decision to implement RET on the Gourock to Dunoon route. I am pleased to say that the indications from the private operator in the area—Western Ferries—are that it will not pursue that option and that it is keen to discuss with ministers the implementation of RET on the Gourock to Dunoon services. We have indicated to local stakeholders, including the ferry group, that we wish to discuss that. Our intention is certainly to take that issue forward positively.
I have not looked at that specific proposal. Obviously, we have to tread very carefully. There is a live complaint and, as I said in response to Liam McArthur’s question, we continue to engage with the Commission to get a resolution as early as possible—we all have an interest in ensuring that. We have made a commitment to implement the policy when we can do so, but I have not looked at the particular opportunity that Rhoda Grant has raised. I will have a think about that and perhaps write to her about it.