Orkney Islands Council is calling on the Scottish Government to honour a commitment to provide fully fair funding for the county’s inter-island ferry service.
The Council is warning it cannot afford to run the service during the year ahead unless the Government covers the full cost involved – this amounts to £6.8 million.
OIC Leader James Stockan has notified Ministers that the Council will hand over responsibility for running the service to Transport Scotland unless sufficient funding is provided.
It was announced in December that the Government’s draft budget for 2019-2020 includes £10.5 million for inter-island ferry services.
A year ago, a similar level of support was secured, after a lengthy campaign by OIC for fair funding. Of this, £5.5 million was allocated to fully fund Orkney’s internal ferry service during the current financial year, with £5 million awarded to Shetland Islands Council for its ferry operations.
“It is welcome that the Government has again included funding for inter-island ferry services in its budget for the year ahead,” said Councillor Stockan.
“But this time there is no specific amount allocated to Orkney or Shetland. The Government recognises that it will cost £6.8 million to operate our ageing fleet of ferries during 2019-2020 – and that is what we are asking the Government to provide.”
OIC is also looking to the Government to fund the replacement of the current inter-island fleet. The Council has been working with the Government on this for a number of years and is currently developing a business case setting out the service levels local communities require, and the engineering options needed to achieve these.
Councillor Stockan added: “We would object in the strongest possible terms if we end up with a reduction in our ferries funding. This would place a wholly disproportionate and unfair burden on the smallest council in Scotland and would mean us having to make cuts to other vital services.
“The ferries are a lifeline for remote and fragile communities across our islands. Orkney has the oldest fleet and the highest fares in the country – an inequality we cannot address without proper financial support from the Scottish Government.
“We are calling on the Government to take an honourable approach to fulfilling the will of the Scottish Parliament that we should receive fair and equitable funding for our inter-island ferry service.
“The principle of transferring Orkney’s internal ferry service to the Scottish Government, at no net detriment to OIC, has already been approved by the Council. That is a route we will have to take unless we are provided with the funds to run the service over the year ahead.”