Letter: Government pie over Skye infuriates the islanders

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The Independent Online
JAMES CUSICK'S report on yet another government attempt to impose 'market discipline' on Western Isles ferry services ('Ferry threat has Scots steaming', 23 May) raises the issue of the Government's own enabling legislation for the Skye bridge, which is due to replace CalMac's 24-hour vehicle ferry service on the five-minute crossing between the villages of Kyle and Kyleakin. No charge is made for pedestrians on this ferry.

The proposal to allow Miller Construction plc to build and operate a private, profit-making toll bridge was opposed by most Skye people; none the less it was pushed through. When completed it will leave both villages cut off from the tourist traffic on which their economy depends. Its ugly box-girder structure will provide half a mile or so of public road at a cost of pounds 6 (at today's prices) for a single car crossing. Since it will neither connect communities nor provide shelter from the weather, pedestrians will not use it.

From the moment the bridge opens it will, thanks to the Government's own special legislation, be illegal for CalMac - or any other operator - to provide a ferry service in competition. Where is the 'market discipline' - not to mention the logic or the social justice - in that? Undoubtedly it is coincidental that Miller Construction reportedly contributes to Tory party funds.

It would be unwise for English readers to dismiss the proposed dismantling of CalMac as something affecting only a handful of people in a few remote places. When the commuters of southern England lose the benefit of cross- subsidy from BR's Eastern Region InterCity operation they will have much in common with the crofters of Barra and the Uists as they lose their subsidy from CalMac's profitable routes. To bring people together like this may, indeed, be the sole achievement of this inept, sleazy Government.

David Milsted

Newbury, Dorset