Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur has today warned the Scottish Government that it will be held to its promise to find a long term solution to supporting internal ferry services in Orkney and Shetland.
The Northern Isles MSPs led the campaign in parliament, pressing Ministers to honour their promises to deliver fair funding for lifeline services that were under extreme pressure. Parliament backed these efforts and voted in support of a motion lodged by Mr McArthur and Mr Scott.
Following subsequent discussions with the Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay MSP, the two MSPs helped secure both a commitment to providing the vital funding needed in 2018-19 but also a specific process for identifying a longer term solution to the funding and delivery of these lifeline services.
In a letter to Mr Scott and Mr McArthur, the Finance Secretary confirmed the funding and that a Working Group would be established “with appropriate Ministerial oversight, with a view to establishing mutually acceptable solutions”. In return, the Northern Isles MSPs agreed to support the budget.
In the week the Scottish Parliament debated and passed the final stage of the budget this week, Mr McArthur has called on Ministers to report back to Parliament before the summer on what progress the Working Group has made.
Mr McArthur said:
“These services are an absolute lifeline for island communities in Orkney. With the threat of industrial action looming, therefore, the first priority was always securing funding that would enable services to be maintained.
“That has now been achieved, but it is only the start. While it has set a precedent from which Ministers cannot now row back in future budgets, what we need to see now are efforts to reach a longer term solution.
“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, affordability and other measures. That cannot continue.
“There is also the question of fleet replacement, which is becoming ever more urgent. The current vessels are at the stage where planned and unplanned maintenance is causing ever greater disruption to the communities they serve. Meantime, fuel costs are unsustainably high and only getting higher.
“Ministers have committed to working with both Councils to identify longer term solutions to these issues that meet the respective needs of communities in Orkney and Shetland. That is welcome, but there can be no loss of urgency once the budget is passed. People in Orkney and Shetland will be watching closely to see that Ministers honour the commitments they have made.
“To ensure public confidence in the process, the Scottish Government must agree to report back to Parliament no later than the summer on what progress has been made.”