The Board of Orkney Ferries has made a direct appeal to the Scottish Government for emergency funding to offset the damaging impact on the company of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Board chair, Councillor David Dawson, said the company – which provides Orkney’s inter-island ferry service – is struggling to survive a major drop in income since lockdown measures were first imposed.
In an open letter to the Scottish Government, sent to Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, the Board asks for financial support similar to that provided for other ferry and transport companies.
Councillor Dawson said: “The Covid19 crisis has had a damaging and very likely long-term impact on Orkney Ferries. We urgently need support from the Government for a service that is literally a lifeline for our most vulnerable and remote communities.
“The need for social distancing – while essential – has massively reduced the number of passengers we can carry – and this has had a major impact on the company’s income over the last four months.
“This income is a vital part of Orkney Ferries’ funding. But despite this, we have continued to operate fully-manned vessels carrying food, medicine, fuel and many other vital supplies our isles communities depend upon.
“Orkney Ferries is losing £600,000 in income every quarter. This is unsustainable and seriously endangers the company’s future.”
Councillor Dawson said an appeal for support has already been made and initially turned down by the Government. Other Scottish ferry operators including Northlink and CalMac had, however, been given direct support.
“So we were shocked and appalled to discover that in addition to supporting other Scottish ferry companies, the Government is providing up to £9 million in emergency funding for Glasgow Subway and Edinburgh Trams.
“That sends a message that the Government considers the wellbeing of people in the Central Belt to be more important than that of folk in Orkney’s North and South Isles.
“We are simply asking for parity in the way the company is treated – and that emergency funding is provided, enabling us to continue our support for the many communities that depend on our inter-island ferry service.”
Orkney Islands Council has long argued that the service should be fully funded by the Scottish Government, in line with similar lifeline ferry operations elsewhere in Scotland.