Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur has called on the Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary to honour his commitment to fair funding for Orkney’s internal ferry services.
Last week Mr McArthur met the Leaders of Orkney and Shetland Island Councils at Holyrood to discuss the issue ahead of publication next month of the Scottish Government’s budget.
A further meeting was held with the OIC group of councillors in Kirkwall yesterday (20 November). Following the meetings, Orkney’s MSP restated his determination to keep up the pressure on the Scottish Government to deliver a fair deal for the islands on internal ferry service funding.
Currently, unlike the rest of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland Councils 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.
The Scottish Government had previously committed to “fair funding” of internal ferries. In response to a Parliamentary question from Orkney’s MSP in 2014, the then Transport Minister and now Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay confirmed that: “provision of transport services should not place a disproportionate financial burden on any council, particularly with reference to revenue support for ferry services and ferry replacement costs for internal ferry services.”
Mr Mackay has now made clear that he has abandoned that commitment and does not intend including the funding in his forthcoming budget.
Speaking today, Mr McArthur said:
“Getting a fair deal on funding for our internal ferry services has been a priority for me ever since I was first elected in 2007. These routes provide a genuine lifeline upon which some of the most fragile communities in the country are entirely dependent.
“Over the years, however, while the cost to the Council of providing these services has gone up significantly, the services themselves have fallen further behind those enjoyed by almost every other island community in Scotland. That is neither fair nor sustainable and an urgent resolution must now be found.
“As Transport Minister, Derek MacKay made firm and welcome commitments to address this. Since being promoted to the role of Finance Secretary, where he is in a position to deliver, Mr MacKay has chosen instead to abandon his promise and hold our island communities to ransom.
“The forthcoming budget provides an opportunity to keep Mr MacKay’s feet to the fire and I am determined to ensure this happens. Liberal Democrats will make this issue a key demand in our budget negotiations with the Finance Secretary who must be held to account for his cynical behaviour over the funding of these lifeline services”.
Notes to editors:
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament on 26 November 2014 in answer to a question by Liam McArthur, the current Finance Secretary Derek Mackay who was then Transport and Islands Minister said:
“In the ‘Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities’ prospectus, which was published on 16 June, we recognised that the provision of transport services should not place a disproportionate financial burden on any council, particularly with reference to revenue support for ferry services and ferry replacement costs for internal ferry services.”
The Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities’ prospectus can be found here. On page 66, the paper stated:
“The Scottish Government recognises that the provision of transport services should not place a is proportionate financial burden on any Council such that it could be counter to the principles of Article 170, with particular reference to the revenue and ferry replacement costs of the internal ferry services of Orkney and Shetland, and commits to meaningful negotiation now to conclude this issue.”