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There was joy this week for the community on the remote peninsula of Knoydart after it was announced that the lifeline Inverie to Mallaig ferry route is set to benefit from the Scottish Government’s Road Equivalent Tariff fares subsidy scheme.
Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth confirmed the news in a letter this week to local constituency MSP Kate Forbes, adding that Highland Council as the local authority will help with the scheme’s implementation.
RET is a flagship Scottish Government subsidy for ferry routes designed to reduce the cost of moving passengers and freight to island destinations.
A recent study of other RET routes showed fares were generally about 40 per cent cheaper than before as they are then based more on mileage or distance of crossing.
Since first visiting the remote peninsula back in 2016, the campaign for RET has been spearheaded by Ms Forbes through discussions with the local community, Highland Council, Transport Scotland, as well as the previous Islands Minister, Paul Wheelhouse.
It is hoped RET will become operational in the near future – and around £200,000 has been allocated for the 2022/23 financial year.
The Highland Council is responsible for the provision of the Knoydart ferry
and the setting of fare levels.
However, the Scottish Government has provided more than £136m to local authorities over the last five years, including 2022-23, through the Local Government settlement and the Specific Grant.
Though Knoydart is on the Scottish mainland – reached overland only by a 16-mile hike from Mallaig – it is essentially only accessible by ferry which is the main route for both passengers and freight.
Ms Forbes said she was ‘absolutely delighted’ that thanks to Scottish Government funding, RET will start on the Knoydart ferry service, which is currently operated by Western Isles Cruises.
‘When I was first elected as an MSP back in 2016, one of the first visits I did was to Inverie where I heard first-hand of the community’s aspirations and the difficulties of higher fares for the ferry,’ she said.
‘Since then, there have been numerous discussions with Transport Scotland and Highland Council, so it’s great to see RET finally being implemented.
‘I hope this week’s announcement is good news for the local community as well as visitors to the peninsula.’
In her letter, Ms Gilruth told Ms Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, that she had written to the Inverness-shire-headquartered local authority earlier this month to confirm a ‘Support for Inter-Island Ferries’ Specific Grant allocation of £0.897m for 2022-23.
And Ms Gilruth added: ‘This includes funding of £200,000 to facilitate the introduction of RET on the Knoydart route, something which I know you and the local community have requested for some time.
‘I am delighted that the Scottish Government has been able to support the council in delivering the benefits of RET to the Knoydart community, supporting tourism, the local economy and lifeline travel.’
Frank Atherley, a member of South Knoydart Community Council, said: ‘This is excellent news. Apart from the small subsidy for resident foot passengers, there is no subsidy for tourists, cars or commercial freight which all has to be brought over at much greater cost.
‘We don’t have a roll on-roll off ferry service and freight is transported by private providers. So it has been quite challenging.’
Mr Atherley added that the community council would be looking to, hopefully, have some involvement and engagement with the council on how the RET was delivered.
‘However, the bottom line is this is very welcome as it has been something we have been trying to arrange for some considerable time,’ he said.
‘Due to accidental historical reasons, Knoydart has been treated differently to other island communities – albeit it not being an island but still an isolated area with many of the same issues.’
And Mr Atherley went on to praise Ms Forbes’ efforts on behalf of the Knoydart community. ‘Kate has been an excellent constituency MSP – she has listened to us and argued our case and we are very grateful for all the hard work that she has done on our behalf. Because this will make a huge difference to the people on Knoydart.’