Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur, today accused the Scottish Government of “walking away from the principle of fair ferry funding” and “short changing the Councils in Orkney and Shetland.
During General Question time today, Mr McArthur reminded the chamber that it had voted unanimously for the government to deliver on its promises and support the principle of fair funding for Orkney and Shetland’s lifeline internal ferry services. This year, however, Ministers have refused to meet their share of the costs, with funding frozen at last year’s level and a suggestion that it is also to be shared with Argyll & Bute Council.
This has left Orkney Islands Council in a position of being unable at this stage to agree a budget for the coming year.
Responding, Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP said the Scottish Government “remains committed to the principle fair funding in terms of ferry services and ferry infrastructure”. However, the £10.5 million offered falls far short of what Orkney Islands Council (£6.8m) and Shetland Islands Council (£7.9m) insist is necessary to meet the true costs.
Reacting to the exchange, Mr McArthur said:
“According to the Scottish Government’s own ferries plan, the internal services in Orkney fall below what Ministers have accepted should be minimum standards in terms of frequency and affordability.
“These services are an absolute lifeline for island communities in Orkney and it is vital that they are properly funded.
“Parliament recognised this when it voted for the government to honour its promises on fair ferry funding. This year, however, Ministers have refused to acknowledge the true cost of meeting that commitment.
“Instead they have chosen to short-change the Councils and communities in Orkney and Shetland. In doing so, they have walked away from the principle of fair funding and ignored the will of parliament.
“That is not acceptable and I will continue to make the case for the government to honour its commitments”.
Notes to Editors: you can watch the exchange here.