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Travel links vital to social and economic future of far north, Caithness Transport Forum says

By John Davidson

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Transport minister Jenny Gilruth will visit forum members in person.
Transport minister Jenny Gilruth will visit forum members in person.

The Scottish transport minister has committed to visiting Caithness to meet members of the local transport forum in person.

The Caithness Transport Forum had a meeting with MSP Jenny Gilruth to discuss a range of issues affecting not just the transport network but the wider economy of the north Highlands.

Despite a relatively short meeting time, a spokesman for the forum said the talks were wide ranging, with areas under discussion including the impact of fuel price rises on Public Service Obligation contracts, the importance of local bus services in meeting Scottish Government policy priorities, the need to ensure more equitable strategic transport investment in rural areas, and the ongoing lack of progress on the rollout of Road Equivalent Tariff across the Northern Isles ferry services.

The minister took away a number of actions from the meeting and committed to coming to the area in person to meet with forum representatives to discuss the issues in greater depth.

At a subsequent meeting of the forum in late June, members were also alerted to the significant impact that delays at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) are having across the transport network and the local economy. Of direct importance to the forum is the impact that these are having on the recruitment of bus drivers, with the training process significantly delayed due to DVSA issues.

Trudy Morris says it's vital both governments work tomorrow.
Trudy Morris says it's vital both governments work tomorrow.

Attendees also heard of the wider impacts of this on the local economy, with significant waiting times for practical driving tests directly affecting the ability of young people to enter the workforce for the first time. The forum has brought these issues to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport and requested that action be taken to address them.

Trudy Morris, chairwoman of the Caithness Transport Forum, said: “Our conversation with the minister, and subsequent discussion of the issues at DVSA, has shown just how vital it is that transport issues are not considered in isolation but in the wider context of the economies and communities that these networks serve.

“In a remote and rural area such as the north Highlands, we are highly reliant on our transport services to ensure that we have equality of access to jobs, healthcare, leisure and social opportunities. It is of great importance to us that our governments, both at Holyrood and at Westminster, understand just how fragile and vital our transport links are, and that they take meaningful action to protect and invest in the region.”

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