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Tourism (Orkney)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 26th February 2020.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

8. To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Destination Orkney and Orkney Islands Council regarding the future needs of the tourism sector. (S5O-04162)

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government has had on-going contact with Orkney Islands Council in relation to the support given to it through the rural tourism infrastructure fund. Our support for the sector is delivered through a range of public bodies. All of those are members of the Destination Orkney partnership—along with the council—that is chaired by Destination Orkney, offering strategic direction to tourism development.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I thank the cabinet secretary and, like David Stewart, welcome him to his new role.

He will be aware of the frustration that is felt because of the continued failure to deliver road equivalent tariff and cheaper fares on the Pentland Firth route. The tourism sector is also affected by the relatively high costs of air services to and from Orkney. Will he agree to engage with his colleague the transport secretary and Loganair, which is in the process of introducing larger aircraft on to its routes, to discuss ways in which that opportunity can be used to reduce fares?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I thank Mr McArthur for his kind words. I think he knows that I enjoyed an excellent holiday in Orkney with my family. It was slightly wet, but great fun. We travelled by ferry and had a lovely time. I have also travelled frequently by air. The journey can be somewhat exciting and the landings muscle-clenching.

I know that he asks about a serious issue and I will be happy to raise it with the cabinet secretary for transport. It is a serious issue for all island inhabitants because the costs of air travel are, indeed, pretty high.

Photo of Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Conservative

Cabinet secretary, your enthusiasm for tourism does you credit. It is critical to the Highlands.

When will the funicular railway be operational? Will it be 2024, 2025, 2026 or later?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I assure the member, and all members across all parties, that Highlands and Islands Enterprise is working extremely hard to develop a master plan and scheme out a sustainable future—economically and environmentally—for the funicular railway in Cairn Gorm. It is doing a power of work and is also consulting with local communities.

I understand that skiing has been taking place in Cairn Gorm in the past few days. That is hugely welcome after a lean season.

Mr Mountain knows that there are complex engineering matters and solutions that must be worked through properly, and that the costings of the remedial work that needs to be done to put matters right have to be carefully assembled. I assure him that that work is under way. I have undertaken previously to report to the Parliament periodically.

I give my absolute commitment that the Scottish Government is determined to find a solution, because we are well aware of the huge importance of the funicular railway for visitors to that part of Scotland all year round. We are working extremely hard across portfolios to deliver a long-term, successful, viable solution, so that once again we see Cairn Gorm providing excellent opportunities, in winter and in summer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I have bids for supplementary questions from Gail Ross and Richard Lyle. Mr Lyle, I have to caution you: this group of questions is on the Highlands and Islands. [

Interruption

.] You are on notice. If I do not hear “Highlands and Islands” in your first breath, you are stopping in your tracks.

Photo of Gail Ross Gail Ross Scottish National Party

Will the cabinet secretary say what the Scottish Government’s proposed solutions are to protect our tourism and hospitality industry in the Highlands and Islands from the United Kingdom Government’s attack on immigration?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I have to say that the response in Scotland from representatives of all businesses to the UK’s appalling proposals on immigration and migration has never been clearer and stronger, more united and more compelling. Whether we are talking about the tourism sector, the agriculture and fishing sector or the care sector, all representatives—entirely independent of politics—are saying exactly the same thing: these proposals will not work. Moreover, the proposals put at risk—“at risk” is a phrase that most of the representatives have used—the very future of those sectors.

We are in an extremely serious situation. I am not straying into politics when I say that the current situation will not hold; the UK Government must start listening to the voice of Scotland and its representatives across the whole spectrum of society.

Photo of Richard Lyle Richard Lyle Scottish National Party

I agree that it is important that we continue to attract people to work in the tourism sector, particularly in the Highlands and Islands. [

Laughter

.]

What impact does the cabinet secretary think the UK Government’s new immigration plan will have on the tourism industry in Scotland—and the Highlands and Islands?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Ah, the work of a pro, Mr Lyle.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

As members know, Mr Lyle is a great friend of the Highlands and Islands, and a great friend of mine.

Let me be serious. In addition to the previous answer that I gave, let me say that the working population of the Highlands and Islands is due to shrink massively before 2040. We have an urgent requirement, not to see fewer people but to retain the existing people and bring in more people.

That is one of the greatest challenges that we face, and it will require a whole suite of policies. The very last thing that it needs is the negative, narrow-minded, insular, parochial, arrogant and dismissive approach of the Home Secretary to the matter. That approach cannot hold, and I suspect that we will see change to the absurd proposals, the likes of which I cannot remember having seen in my 20 years in the Parliament.