Northern Isles MSPs, Liam McArthur and Beatrice Wishart, met today (Tuesday) with the newly appointed Scottish Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, to reinforce the need for the government to honour its commitment to fair funding for internal ferry services in Orkney and Shetland.
The commitment was secured during negotiations with Ms Forbes’ predecessor, Derek Mackay in the context of the 2018 budget, when Mr McArthur and Tavish Scott agreed to support the budget in return for government acceptance of the principle of fair ferry funding. However, the budget published a fortnight ago fell £5million short of what Councils in Orkney and Shetland have calculated is needed to run their lifeline ferry services.
During the meeting, Mr McArthur and Ms Wishart pointed out to the Minister that it is not credible for the government to accept the principle of fair ferry funding but then short change the local authorities and insist that the shortfall be re-negotiated each year.
Following the meeting, Mr McArthur commented:
“Since 2018, the government has repeatedly failed to uphold its promise to communities in the Northern Isles when it comes to funding of our lifeline internal ferry services. While provision has been made, it has consistently fallen short of what is required to reflect fair ferry funding.
“Ministers may have changed, but the commitment was one made on behalf of the government. Indeed, the First Minister spent much of last summer in Shetland repeatedly the promises of fair funding.
“Claiming it is the responsibility of everyone else to deliver the promises they have made lacks credibility. Instead of holding communities in Orkney and Shetland to ransom each year, the government should honour its commitment to fully deliver on fair ferry funding for these lifelines services.”.
Ms Wishart added:
“This Government has already accepted that it must provide full and fair ferry funding for the Northern Isles. Continuing to deny Shetland and Orkney the funding needed to run these lifeline services is completely unacceptable. At worst it is total cynicism.
“The Government needs to step up and deliver on the clear evidence that it has been presented with year after year. We will not allow previous commitments to be traded away.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the future of some island communities relies on sustainable ferry services. However, the money that has been given to Shetland Islands Council in recent years does not meet the true cost of running our ferries.
“When the budget was announced it was described as having “wellbeing and fairness at its very heart”. But this settlement does not reflect that and is not reflective of a Government that is alive to the needs of island communities.”