Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald has today welcomed support from the Scottish Government following his call for a ferry from Scotland to Norway and Denmark.

Mr MacDonald brought the motion, entitled ‘The Need for a Direct Ferry Service Between Scotland and Scandinavia’ to the Scottish Parliament chamber for debate earlier this week, and received cross-party support for the creation of a direct car passenger ferry to Norway and/or Denmark.

A number of options were suggested by MSPs contributing to the debate, including the return of a Newcastle – Stavanger – Bergen service, which would help boost tourism in both Scotland and Northern England, and provide a further export route to Northern Europe.

Mr MacDonald highlighted the economic benefits of a route between Aberdeen or Rosyth and Norway which he said could be a viable long term option, and called on the Scottish Government to consider the case.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports a 48% rise in visitors from Norway to the UK and further analysis of these statistics shows that in 2013 there were 1.175 million travellers between Norway and the UK. Norwegian Seaways, a shipping operator set up to re-establish the Newcastle to Norway service say that approximately only 8 per cent of these travellers are required to make a UK to Norway ferry route a profitable ferry passenger service.

Commenting, Mr MacDonald said:

"In September 2008 we saw the last ferry sail from Newcastle to Stavanger, Haugesund and Bergen in Norway, breaking a service that had lasted 130 years.

"Then, last year, the historic Harwich to Esbjerg in Denmark service was withdrawn, which in effect means there is now no direct passenger car ferry between the UK and Scandinavia.

"However, there is still great demand on both sides of the North Sea of a link between these islands and Scandinavia.

"With well over one million travellers going between Norway and the UK annually, the evidence suggests that there is enough demand to bring back an economically viable service.

"Norway and the Scandinavian nations are some of the wealthiest on the planet so the economic benefit to increasing travel between the two islands is obvious. Also the cultural and social benefits of closer ties between the Nordic progressive social democracies and this country can only be a good thing."

Responding to Mr MacDonald’s speech the Scottish Government’s Transport Minister, Derek Mackay MSP said:

It is important to recognise the strong cultural and historic ties between Scotland and Scandinavia, as well as the many links that exist through oil and gas, fishing and numerous other industries, along with an increasing number of high-spend tourists visiting our country. Those links result in considerable economic benefits to our economy. That would only be enhanced further by increasing the range of travel options available to tourists and businesses.

“As members will know, the Scottish Government has been actively exploring ways of increasing the number of tourists coming to Scotland. That has been seen with the huge success in increasing the number of direct flight routes from Norway to Scotland from six in 2009 to 18 in 2015.

“The Scottish Government certainly wants direct ferry connections from Scotland to Scandinavia to be expanded. That could bring a different type of tourist from those who already travel by air. We have a productive relationship with European ferry operators and we continue to explore all possibilities.

“We have been approached on occasion by parties who are exploring the potential for a Norway service calling at a Scottish port. We have welcomed discussions and engaged with them enthusiastically, offering all the support that we can within the confines of state aid regulations, which members have mentioned. They have yet to overcome the challenges that are involved in putting in place a viable service, but we will continue to work with any potential operator that makes such a proposal. I am sure that members are aware that any such service would have to operate on a commercially viable basis. That would be a matter for any prospective ferry operator to consider fully.

“It is important to recognise the enormous contribution that the maritime sector makes to our economy. Any additional ferry routes from Scotland to Europe would only increase the economic benefits throughout Scotland and provide considerable economic and environmental advantages.

“In line with our team Scotland efforts to support air route development to Scotland, VisitScotland supports the development of inbound visitors to Scotland via ferry. That has included carrying out collaborative partnership marketing campaigns with Superfast Ferries and Norfolkline on their direct routes into Scotland, and it continues with partners including DFDS Seaways on the north of England routes, where there are considerable opportunities to grow the proportion of passengers who turn right on disembarking.

“In 2013 there were 105,000 visitors from Norway to Scotland, spending £87 million, which makes Norway Scotland’s sixth-largest international market. That has increased from 75,000 visitors from Norway in 2010.

“Scotland is well connected to Norway by air, with direct flights available via Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Sumburgh, so the challenge for ferry operators would be to compete with that mode of transport.

“We will continue to work in a team Scotland approach with regard to the potential for new services. That will include a range of marketing and tourism campaigns, focused on intelligent trade support.

“Scottish Enterprise can help to evaluate the potential freight market and might also be able to offer joint funding support around marketing that element. The Scottish Government has explored options for other forms of commercial support that we might be able to offer potential operators as part of their overall business plan. That highlights some of the ways in which we can assist ferry operators and encourage more tourists to choose Scotland as their holiday destination.

Mr Mackay concluded his speech by saying:

“We will continue to encourage ferry operators to keep under review the option of introducing a passenger ferry service from Scotland. The Scottish Government stands ready to work closely with any ferry operator that is looking to set up a new route linking Scotland directly to Europe”.

Speaking after the debate, Angus MacDonald MSP welcomed the positive response from the Scottish Government, saying:

“I am delighted the Scottish Government supports my call in principle. This response sends out the right signal to any commercial ferry and port operators considering a Scotland to Scandinavia ferry service, and will also give some comfort to campaigners wishing to resurrect the Newcastle to Norway service, which is the second best option form a Scottish perspective, but nevertheless welcome if it is re-established.

“I will continue to push for the early introduction of a ferry link to Scandinavia and have written to the Norwegian Government and Tourist Board, ferry companies and local port operators to gauge the level of support on both sides of the North Sea”.

Copyright © Angus MacDonald MSP 2017

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