Warnings from the cruise industry of the chaos being caused by the UK Border Force’s new procedures must be a wakeup call to Westminster.
The SNP have called on the UK government to take heed of the industry's concerns in order to protect a vital and growing sector of the tourism trade which last year generated an estimated £41 million for Scotland’s economy.
Reports in Monday’s Herald warned that the agency’s new interpretation of the rules regarding border checks is causing significant problems to the industry, with every cruise ship passenger now subject to a face to face interview upon arriving in the UK. Previously cruise ship passengers and crews were cleared in advance with manifests checked via agents.
The issue is of particular concern to the cruise industry, as vessels are often only in port for a short time. The time spent waiting in queues for border checks means passengers may not be able to enjoy their visit to a Scottish port to the full, and restricts the time available for visitors to spend in shops and services on their visit.
With large cruise ships potentially carrying thousands of passengers at a time, the delays and increased costs associated with the move are causing fears that operators will become increasingly reluctant to visit Scotland, reversing the rapid growth that the industry has seen in recent years.
Speaking to the Herald newspaper, Richard Alexander, chairman of industry organisation Cruise Scotland highlighted the sector's fears that the new border agency policy will have an adverse affect on the cruise industry in Scotland.
Mr Alexander said:
"The continuing growth for UK cruise ports is under potential threat from stricter interpretation of checks by the UK Border Force since last summer on passengers – including EU residents – arriving from foreign ports."
"With the situation overshadowing success to date and optimism for the future at a time when our members are reporting encouraging bookings for 2014, we and others are continuing to lobby to have the situation resolved through a risk-based approach to checks."
Stuart McMillan MSP wrote to the Westminster Government in early December highlighting the problems that the UK Border Force’s new approach was causing and seeking answers on what prior consultation with the industry took place. To date, no answer has been received.
Commenting, SNP MSP Stuart McMillan who convenes the Cross Party Group on Recreational Boating and Marine Tourism said:
“The cruise ship sector is increasingly important to Scotland’s economy, with passenger numbers increasing rapidly as more and more people visit our shores via cruise ship.
“We should be doing everything we can to boost and support the sector, not putting ill-considered obstacles in its path as Westminster seems determined to do.
“It is completely unacceptable for Westminster to simply ignore the repeated warnings that the cruise industry has given them. These latest calls must act as a wakeup call to Westminster that can no longer simply be brushed aside.
“Instead of continuing to put the arbitrary goals of the Tories ahead of the needs of this multi-million pound sector of the tourism industry, Westminster must listen to the evidence and bring an end to this chaotic new approach as a matter of urgency.”