On Saturday morning the sky was blue, the sea like glass… an ideal day for a sail.
A huddle of Tirisdich and members of the Oban & Lorne Strathspey and Reel Society clambered onto the good ship Islander (a catamaran actually) for a jaunt to the bonny Isle of Lunga. As we motored along at a not insubstantial pace, we were joined by a pod of around 100 dolphins. These curious and friendly creatures played beside our boat whilst cameras clicked, though they weren’t easy to photograph as they were so quick in the water!
Not to be outdone, a minky whale swam silently past, but was unmoved by the commotion and disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.
On arrival at Lunga we picked our way across the boulders on the shore and made for higher ground. It was a beautiful day for a picnic and having found a sunny spot amongst the bluebells we sat down to eat…. However the lure of sandwiches lost its appeal when puffins congregated around us. These brightly painted birds are so tame and charismatic, and seemed quite happy to strike a pose for the camera! Two hours seemed to pass so quickly and then we were back on our boat and homeward bound……..
The latest results from the 2011 Census in Scotland provide the greatest level of detail so far and show that the population living on islands in Scotland increased by 4 per cent since 2001. It is not a uniform picture as some islands have seen large increase whilst others have seen decreases in their population. For Tiree the worrying statistics show that there was a 15% decline in the population from 2001 to 2011, with the total number of people present on census day falling from 770 to 653.
The 2011 figures contrast sharply with the statistics for all Scotland’s inhabited islands, which together saw a population increase of 3.97% over the ten-year period from 2001, from 99,739 people to 103,702. The population of Orkney increased by 11% over the ten year period. The 3.97% increase in island populations is slightly lower than the 4.6% rise for the population of Scotland as a whole.
Other islands which saw a decrease in population included Arran (a fall of 8.25%), Great Cumbrae (a fall of 4.04%), and Bute (a fall of 5.13%). MSP Michael Russell has called for the council to hold a summit to address the decline. Mr Russell said;
“All the figures from the census for Argyll & Bute show a declining population across the area – on the islands and on the mainland and although some other islands are losing population too – most notably the southern part of the western isles – our area of Argyll & Bute is losing population faster than any other local authority area. That decline must be halted. I have raised the issue of rural and island renewal with the Council on many occasions since I became MSP in 2011 and these statistics confirm once again that this is the most urgent problem they have to address. I am therefore asking the Council to convene a population summit in the autumn with all interested parties including Government, HIE, the NHS, Transport Scotland , local communities and the private sector in order to develop a clear and coherent plan that can reverse this decline.”
The Tiree Branch of the Scottish Crofting Federation have been in touch with Keith Brown, Transport Minister in the Scottish Government, with regard to the removal of RET on Commercial Vehicles on ferries. The plan is to replace RET with an amended system of the former “bulk discount rate” which had been in place prior to the introduction of the RET pilot three years ago.
While RET is now extended to vans five metres or less in length, the fact is that most commercial carriers use vans six metres and over in length as five metre vehicles are few and far between. Crofters fear that the Scottish Government is sacrificing the former commercial RET for the sake of introducing RET to other islands without putting any more money into the scheme. One crofter said it does`not bear thinking about what the cost of freight to the island will be if RET is not reintroduced to commercial vehicles.
The Scottish Government report “Assessment of the impacts of the road equivalent tariff” pointed out that RET has made a positive impact on haulage businesses by lowering costs. The reports states that hauliers recorded savings amounting to an estimated 50% of ferry costs, and that whilst all of these savings might not have been passed on to the customers directly it allowed hauliers to offset other increased costs and therefore enabled prices to be pegged where they would otherwise have increased. Despite this, the Scottish Government recently announced the exclusion of commercial vehicles from the newly-extended RET, announcing instead that they would ‘replace RET for larger commercial vehicles on the Western Isles, Coll & Tiree, with an enhanced pre-RET discount scheme’. There is widespread concern that islanders will lose out heavily as a result of these proposed changes. David Muir of the Scottish Crofting Federation said:
“the SCF are calling on the Scottish government to provide urgent clarity on the situation as we are concerned that a reintroduced discount system could take away a great deal of the support that RET has brought to smaller hauliers. Any resulting increase in ferry fare cost will be passed on to customers.”
. Mr Muir concluded that “to support the fragile island economies what is needed is a fair syatem that retains the cost savings for hauliers and other commercials gained in the RET scheme”.
MP Angus MacNeil has called for clarity quickly on the new proposed ferry fares for hauliers if the government continues with its current proposal to get rid of RET for lorries. He said “the decision to remove RET from the hauliers is a mistake. The removal of RET will ultimately lead to an increase in prices for customers in our islands. I will be pressing for a meeting with the trasnport minister early in the year. Meanwhile a campaign group, hauliers for RET, has been assembled to both work on the RET case and to dispel the myth that arose in Edinburgh that island hauliers did not want RET. If this is not sorted freight costs and prices will go up which could ultimately impact on jobs” David Wood, the spokesman for “Hauliers for RET” commented that
“RET has benefited the islands and to remove it from the haulage industry will be detrimental to the whole community. Ultimately our customer will have to pay.”
The Scottish Ferry Services Draft Plan for Consultation states in the short term we are replacing RET for larger commercial vehicles on the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree, with an enhanced pre- RET discount scheme because:-
- The RET evaluation report shows that savings made by hauliers through RET have generally not been passed on to the consumers.
- In 93 per cent of cases, the reduction in ferry fares arising through the RET Pilot have been wholly or partially absorbed at some stage in the supply chain, without being fully passed on to customers. Only 7 per cent of firms in the sample of businesses indicated that the savings had been passed on in full throughout the supply chain from both their suppliers and on to their customers.
- The cost of rolling out RET to larger commercial vehicles is an estimated 40 per cent of the total cost of RET. ? Before the introduction of RET, hauliers received discounts to their fares up to a maximum of 15 per cent dependent on their volume of business with CalMac. Island hauliers told us when we rolled RET out that they were concerned mainland hauliers would be able to compete more effectively with them now that the same discounts applied to all hauliers. We will reinstate the pre-RET discounts that were enjoyed by hauliers and increase for the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree the maximum discount from 15 per cent to 25 per cent.
- For the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree the Government is considering how to extend the current discount eligibility criteria for hauliers.
- The Government is open to discussing with businesses which use larger commercial vehicles the most equitable formula which could be used to apply these discounts so that they benefit both larger and smaller companies.
- These improvements to the discount will be made for the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree only, where hauliers have received the RET discount since October 2008. While the discount has not been passed on to consumers we accept that in these difficult financial times some hauliers may find it difficult to now pay a fully increased fare. The increase to the maximum discount reduces the impact on these hauliers. We will revisit the discount again when we renew the Clyde and Hebrides contract in October 2013.
- We will look in the next CHFS tender to extend the current definition of a commercial vehicle from 5 metres to 6 metres. This will be consistent with the position in the Northern Isles