MORE than 40 companies in the Western Isles have launched a lobby group to campaign against the Government's decision to withdraw a new charging system for commercial vehicles, which they claim will mean up to 175% increases in ferry fares.

The Outer Hebrides Transport Group says the decision to prevent firms taking advantage of Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) is a tax on every family and business in the islands. 

The Scottish Government said last month it was going to roll out RET, which bases fares on the cost of travelling the same distance by road, to the rest of the CalMac network after it delivered up to 50% cuts in ferry fares to the Outer Isles, Coll and Tiree in a pilot scheme.

At the same time it said it would no longer apply to commercial vehicles.

Gail Robertson, of DJ Buchanan Haulage on Benbecula, who is co-ordinator for Outer Hebrides Transport Group, said: "In a matter of days we've seen in excess of 40 companies sign up to this campaign and the number is rising daily. 

"It is only in the past couple of weeks that we've all realised what's being proposed. We have support from all sectors of business in the community."

David Wood, owner of the haulage company Woody's Express, which has its HQ in Stornoway, said: "This proposal from the SNP Government is economically illiterate and will have a devastating impact on the islands."

Fares are going up across the CalMac network by 6.5% and a Transport Scotland spokeswoman disputed the claim anyone would face a 175% rise. She said: "The plan is to return hauliers operating to the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree to the same position as hauliers operating to other islands in the Clyde and Hebrides.

"In recognition of the fact that hauliers operating to the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree have benefited from lower fares and may now find it difficult to pay increased fares we are considering how best we can enhance the pre RET discount scheme."