SKAT is to contact the Government with an offer to reintroduce a car ferry service from Kyle to Kyleakin in Skye. This offer comes in the light of the indignation expressed in several national newspapers about revelations that the ferries which latterly served this route are still redundant and so far have defied all attempts to be sold off. Tax-payers will recall that these ferries were bought at huge public expense but were immediately removed from service once the bridge opened by the then Minister of State for the Highlands and Islands, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, in order to give the bridge operators free-run to achieve huge profits in a monopolistic situation.
"We are confident that we can make this service pay," commented SKAT vice-convener Alasdair Maclean. "We know that Skye people were paying over the odds on the old ferries and the £1million or so surplus was being used to cross-subsidise other Cal-Mac services. We would not have to soak the traveller in the same way as Cal-Mac did and, after much investigation, we reckon that we could charge under £2 per car and still keep our heads above water. Compared with £5.60 to cross the bridge I am sure that tourists would be pleased to go over the sea by ferry."
The initiative has many other advantages. A locally run service would create skilled jobs with much of the revenue raised circulating within the local economy and generating a substantial economic spin-off. At the moment the greater bulk of revenue raised from travellers across the Kyle is siphoned off directly to the Bank of America and does no good whatsoever locally. There would also be the effective removal of one of the headaches the Skye Bridge PFI fiasco has created for the present Government. No longer would the ferries be there to remind the present administration of its inability to tidy up the mess the previous government left them. Furthermore SKAT knows that such an initiative would please the present Minister for the Highlands and Islands, Brian Wilson MP. Just after the bridge opened he stated that "as rapid progress as is possible must be made to reducing and removing tolls. This must not, however, be at the cost of a ransom paid to the promoters of the scheme, now disguised as the Skye Bridge Company. The achievement of these twin aims may involve decisions of courage and ingenuity ."
SKAT thoroughly endorses Mr. Wilsons sentiments and hopes that he will agree that this campaign initiative is both ingenious and courageous. In fact Mr. Wilson specifically identified this sort of initiative as one which would be very worthwhile pursuing. "Wherever practicable" he continued, "ferries should be used and the reintroduction of a Kyle-Kyleakin service must be brought to fruition if at all feasible."
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 1998.
Most recent revision, 13 March 1998