Orkney's MSP, Liam McArthur, has again questioned the Transport Minister over the replacement of Orkney’s internal ferry fleet, highlighting the disparity in funding arrangements between Orkney and the Western Isles.
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon during Portfolio Questions, Mr McArthur highlighted that the local government funding settlement is "significantly higher" per head of population for Western Isles Council than it is for Orkney Islands Council.
Mr McArthur went on to remind the Minister that ferry replacement costs on West Coast routes are covered by the Scottish Government while "OIC is left to pick up the significant tab for replacing ageing vessels" on its lifeline internal services. Orkney’s MSP asked the Minister whether he believes this is "fair" and if not, what he planned to do about it.
In response, the Transport Minister repeated his claim that the vessels “are the responsibility of the local authority" but added "I am aware that there is dialogue between the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and OIC" on ferry replacement funding.
Commenting after the exchange, Mr McArthur said:
"The disparity in local authority funding between Orkney and the Western Isles has long been a source of concern. However, when Ministers then assert that ferry replacement costs must be met by Orkney Islands Council, but not by their counterparts on the west coast, it simply runs salt in the wounds.
"Indeed, during the same question time, the Transport Minister boasted about a £60m Scottish Government investment in port infrastructure serving one west coast route, even though it falls under the responsibility of the local Council. That being the case, there is no reason why similar investment cannot be made in vessel replacement on Orkney’s lifeline internal ferry routes.
"I welcome confirmation that discussions are ongoing between the Finance Secretary and OIC. However, there has been no lack of discussions over the years. What we need to see is agreement reached, procurement started and vessels delivered."