Angry retailers warn bus ban is putting jobs at risk
ANGRY Fort William retailers say more than 200 High Street jobs could be at risk if coaches are stopped from dropping passengers off near the town centre.
Members of the Fort William Retail Association called the Highland Council’s decision to stop tourist buses letting passengers off at service bus stops an ‘abomination’ when they met last week.
An emergency motion to solve the situation was called for by one retailer at the meeting with councillors Andrew Baxter, Ben Thompson and Blair Allan.
It was said the decision to stop coaches parking near the town was made in Inverness and introduced in Fort William without consultation.
Drew Purdon, chairman of the retail association, said: ‘This is an abomination. We don’t know where it came from, but our elected councillors were not privy to this decision.
‘This came from non- elected officials who know what they earn week-to-week.
‘We don’t know what we will earn day-to- day. We were kept in the dark.
‘The Highland Council is in breach of its own policy to strengthen the High Street because this action was taken against the High Street. We still have this anti-High Street, anti-buses feeling from the council.
‘I thought it had died away years ago. There are 200 people employed on the High Street by businesses in tourism and rates of £1 million are raised by High Street businesses so we should surely get a say on what happens.’
Mr Purdon expressed grave concern the decision will frighten off coach companies, with some already concerned about parking arrangements.
‘If the coaches go to Ben Nevis Distillery or out to Spean Bridge instead of coming into town because there is nowhere for them to stop, we could end up losing half of our trade,’ he said.
Eric Wallace, who has had a newsagent and gift shop on the High Street for 30 years, said: ‘I’m not here just for myself. I am here for my staff because they depend on me.
‘This is not just about businesses losing a bit of profit, this is about jobs.
‘I have never encountered any problems with buses in the 30 years I have been on the High Street and then one day they are just banned.
‘I don’t want to lay off staff in the winter when it is quiet, but two jobs are at serious risk if the council take away 10 per cent of my business in the summer.’
Another retailer, who asked not to be named, said: ‘It’s not just Inverness, Inverness, Inverness.
‘The council needs to look at the biggest town in the Highlands and it’s high time we got paid more than lip service.
‘I think an emergency motion should be taken to Margaret Davidson [leader of the council] to get this resolved immediately.’
Ben Thompson said the strength of feeling about the financial impact was evident.
He said: ‘I, too, am a retailer so I sympathise with you. I don’t lay off my staff in the winter so we need to reap in the summer as it makes up for the winter.’
Andrew Baxter said: ‘This decision was taken in Inverness. But any decisions about parking provisions should be made by elected councillors.’
Mr Baxter said councillors would consider everyone’s opinion and talk to bus companies before a final decision was made.
Another meeting is to be arranged.