The Scottish Liberal Democrats will tomorrow [Wednesday] initiate a debate in the Scottish Parliament in which they will call on the Scottish Government to honour their commitment to fair funding for internal ferry services in the Northern Isles.
The debate comes ahead of the Scottish Government’s forthcoming budget. Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay MSP, has faced calls to make good an earlier promise he made and remove the financial burden faced by Orkney and Shetland Islands Councils in running what Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur has described as “genuine lifeline links for island communities”.
Currently, unlike the rest of Scotland, the councils in the Northern Isles receive only part funding from the Scottish Government to provide internal ferries. The annual revenue cost to OIC is now around £5.5million, in return for a service that is falling further and further behind equivalent services elsewhere in the country and the minimum standard set out in the government’s own national ferries plan.
The Scottish Government had previously committed to “fair funding” of internal ferries in their Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities’ prospectus.
The current Finance Secretary has also given a personal commitment. As Transport Minister in 2014, he told Mr McArthur in Holyrood that “provision of transport services should not place a disproportionate financial burden on any council, particularly with reference to revenue support for ferry services.”
In recent weeks, however, Mr Mackay has appeared to abandon that commitment and made clear that he does not intend including the funding in his forthcoming budget.
In a statement ahead of the debate, Orkney MSP Liam McArthur and Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said:
“In both Orkney and Shetland, internal ferry services provide a genuine lifeline upon which some of the most fragile communities in the country are entirely dependent.
“The spiralling cost to both local councils of providing these services, however, is not sustainable and poses a real threat to their future viability. It is simply not right that, unlike with similar ferry services elsewhere in the country, the financial burden should fall on OIC and SIC.
“The Scottish Government’s earlier commitment to “fair funding” was therefore welcome, as indeed was the personal undertaking given by Derek Mackay when he was the Transport Minister.
“What is not welcome or acceptable is Mr Mackay’s refusal to keep his word and deliver on that commitment. He has an opportunity to put fair ferry funding in his budget but has chosen instead to abandon his promise and hold our island communities to ransom.
“That is not good enough and parliament will have the chance this week to make that clear to the Finance Secretary. Funding of these lifeline services is too important for Mr Mackay to offer nods and winks and then play dumb. It is time for him to deliver his promise on fair ferry funding.”