The report on the Impact of the Removal of RET Fares from Commercial Vehicles was welcomed by the SNP Group at the Comhairle seminar.
The report highlighted a number of issues which suggested the need for improvements to support island economies and remove disadvantages in costs of ferry travel.
In the month prior to the introduction of RET, hauliers did not pass on the full impact of oil price increases fuelling the perception that RET did not deliver the savings that it clearly did. The report considers that this prevented the full benefit of the RET pilot being realised.
The subsidy was designed to help island economies and local businesses, yet the report concluded that a major portion of RET went on combating the then Westminster Labour government’s fuel price escalator.
The report makes clear that by far the largest percentage of additional subsidy provided by the Scottish Government between 2008 and 2010, to benefit the businesses and consumers of the Hebrides, went straight to the Westminster treasury in increased oil charges. A disturbing additional fact to emerge from the study is the concern over “passing on” the RET savings. What is described as “open book” pricing, available only to supermarkets, saw them benefit from RET at the expense of small businesses and the “majority of customers”. It surely cannot be acceptable that small businesses – for which the £3m annual subsidy was originally intended – should be disadvantaged because “open book” pricing was not available to them in the manner it was available to their most serious competitors.
We consider a long term commercial fares strategy is essential. We urge the government to consider the allocation of additional funding however an improved mechanism needs to be put in place to make sure all businesses are treated equitably. Spare weight capacities on ferries could be used by increasing the weight carrying ability of a light commercial vehicle at no increased cost to the public.
We welcome the commitment that any future rise in fares will be considered in the light of this report.