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MSP probes Islands Plan transport

The Proposed National Islands Plan was laid before parliament, this week.

Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur, has sought reassurances from the government that the National Islands Plan will lead to much-needed improvements in Orkney’s lifeline transport links.

Following a Ministerial Statement in parliament on Tuesday afternoon on the proposed Islands Plan, Mr McArthur asked the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse, if the government is now ready to deliver both new vessels and funding for Orkney’s internal fleet, as well as additional freight capacity for Northern Isles routes.

Mr McArthur also highlighted criticism from Orkney Islands Council about a lack of “commitments” or “real substance” in the Plan, which was published last week. In response, the Minister agreed to continue to engage with local authorities constructively on internal ferry funding and with industries in the islands to better understand their freight requirements.

Following the exchange, Mr McArthur said: “During the passage of the Islands Bill, Tavish Scott and I moved amendments seeking to ensure that islanders are guaranteed access to appropriate levels of services. This included everything from lifeline ferry and air travel to health and education.

“At the time, Ministers argued that this sort of detail should be kept for the National Islands Plan. Islanders will therefore expect Ministers to deliver. Vague promises and warm words are not enough. The National Islands Plan needs to set out firm commitments on the provision in priority areas such as transport, health, education and digital connections.

“In terms of transport links, for example, we now need to see urgent action, both in securing new vessels and sustainable, long term funding for our internal ferry services, as well as additional freight capacity on the Northern Isles routes. The true test of the National Islands Plan and the Islands Act will be will be whether or not it makes a positive difference to the lives of islanders and to island communities.”

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