Council welcomes ferry funding announcement
Council Leader James Stockan has welcomed the announcement by the Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay MSP, that £5.5 million in additional funding for Orkney’s inter-island ferry service will be included in the Scottish Government’s budget for 2018-19.
The announcement was made this afternoon in the Scottish Parliament, where MSPs debated the Scottish Government’s proposed budget for the year ahead.
Councillor Stockan said: “This is a red letter day for the Council. In 15 years as a Councillor, I would rate this as the most significant financial breakthrough we’ve seen for the Council. It will provide vital support for our lifeline ferry service and for the organisation as a whole.
“A huge effort has gone into this. We wrote individually to every MSP. We followed that up by writing to all the party leaders at Holyrood. I also met face to face with each of the List MSPs for our region.
“It is important to thank all involved in securing the success of our campaign.
“First and foremost Derek McKay and his colleagues, for recognising that our call for additional funding was reasonable, equitable and just – and for including fair funding in his budget for the year ahead.
“This result could not have been achieved without the unstinting and unanimous support of our Elected Members. Our regional transport partnership, HITRANS, and officers of the Council have worked tirelessly over the last four years in building a compelling case for fair funding for our ferry services. This successful outcome also depended on us working closely with our Northern Isles colleagues, Shetland Islands Council, Shetland’s transport partnership, ZETRANS, and in particular Council Leader Cecil Smith.
“The Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, on their evidence-gathering visit to Orkney, listened to what we had to say and made clear their support for our case – which also gained the backing of all the political parties at Holyrood.
“The support of our constituency MSPs was always going to be crucial. We lobbied hard and I am pleased that Liam McArthur and Tavish Scott listened to what we had to say, recognised the key importance of this to Orkney and Shetland, and came through by ensuring this became a key budget issue for the Lib Dems at Holyrood.”
Councillor Stockan added: “Delighted as I am, this has to be a qualified welcome for what Mr McKay has announced today. His budget is for a single year. We still need to secure recurring support – so that our internal ferry service is fully funded year on year by the Government.
“That would be a first step on the road to for the sort of ferry service we aspire to for Orkney – with new and improved vessels operating a more frequent service to our isles communities, with fares that match those provided elsewhere in Scotland.
We have agreement with the Scottish Government to move forward on these aspirations.”
Funding for Orkney’s inter-island ferry service is currently included in the annual grant paid by the Scottish Government to Orkney Islands Council to run local services.
The amount provided by Government has been considerably less than the actual cost of operating Orkney’s lifeline inter-island ferry service – each year OIC has had to make up the shortfall.
For example, the deficit was £2.9 million in 2016-2017 and, without the funding announced today, would have risen to £5.5 million in 2018-2019.
The Council has argued that this is unsustainable and asked the Scottish Government to fully fund the inter-island ferry service. With lifeline ferry services to island communities off the West Coast of Scotland fully funded by the Government, the Council argued that this was a fair and reasonable request.