Baxter fails to scupper Corran Ferry fares hike

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Andrew Baxter has hit out at four of his fellow Lochaber councillors who last week voted through a savings package that will see a hike in fares for the Corran Ferry to the tune of an extra £100,000 a year.

Highland Council is having to plan for a budget gap in 2022-23 ranging from £9million at best, to as much as £35.4m and to that end councillors last week agreed a package of initial savings for 2022/23 amounting to £1.61m – a savings package being proposed mid-year instead of at normal budget time in March.

Councillor Baxter (Con, Fort William and Ardnamurchan) was the only Lochaber elected member present to vote against raising any fares whatsoever on the ferry at last week’s online meeting of the full council.

The ferry that plies the Corran Narrows is regarded as a vital lifeline service for communities on the peninsula. NO-F47-corran-ferry-1
The ferry that plies the Corran Narrows is regarded as a vital lifeline service for communities on the peninsula.

Although councillors backed an amendment by Councillor Baxter’s fellow ward 21 representative, Blair Allan (SNP), to not increase the price of books of pre-paid ferry tickets and to spread the £13,000 shortfall in savings across drive-up fare categories, it still means a three per cent rise for other single ticket purchasers – residents and tourists alike.

Caol and Mallaig members Allan Henderson, Ben Thompson (both Independents) and Denis Rixson (Lib Dem) all backed the savings proposals package after Councillor Allan’s amendment was adopted (Councillor Niall Mclean of the SNP was absent).

Councillor Baxter had beseeched his fellow Lochaber councillors to scrap any rises in ferry fare prices.

Councillor Andrew Baxter

‘I am disappointed because once again it seems officers in the administration see that this is an easy option to raise revenue,’ he said.

‘I am disappointed because all the promises from the former chairmen of the corporate and resources committee, past and existing directors, to work with the local community over the fare structure on the Corran Ferry, have yet again been broken and ignored.

‘I am disappointed that after four years we are being told that smart ticketing is still not in operation when we’ve been told that it was imminent and that it would lead to operational savings.

‘I am disappointed that Lochaber residents and businesses have once again been asked to stump up a revenue where other wards across the Highland Council escape from the revenue raising that has already been agreed in previous budgets.

‘And I am disappointed that we are being asked to stump up when there is still no capital commitment to fund replacement ferries that are so desperately needed.’

He then appealed to the SNP group to ‘actually act as an opposition’ and vote against the savings proposals and added: ‘I also appeal to my fellow Lochaber councillors who are members of the administration to actually say enough is enough.’

On proposing his amendment, Councillor Allan explained that freezing the price of pre-booked tickets would support local people and Lochaber’s rural economy at a time the region was still reeling from the impact of Covid and other economic issues.

Blair Allan. F17blairallan1no
Councillor Blair Allan, pictured, recently moved to Fife, but remains a member of Highland Council.

Councillor Allan Henderson (Ind, Caol and Mallaig Ward) said increases in things like ferry fares were due to the council not keeping in touch with the rate of inflation and now having to play catch-up. And he warned: ‘The alternatives are much worse than this.’

The increases will mean drive-up fares for a car will now reach £10, with a single ticket in the discounted book of tickets costing £2.64.

Commenting after the meeting, Councillor Baxter said if Councillor Allan had backed his proposal there would be no increase in fares next year.

‘I was really disappointed at watching fellow Lochaber councillors let down our area and do the administration’s job for them,’ he said.

And this week, Councillor Baxter told the Lochaber Times he ‘absolutely’ stood by his scathing comments.

‘This will hit lots of people – those on this side of the Corran Narrows and those on the peninsula who don’t have a need to buy a whole book of pre-paid tickets,’ he told us.