Northern Isles MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur have today won vital funding for internal ferry services in Orkney and Shetland in exchange for voting for the Scottish Government’s budget at Stage 1.
Internal ferry services in Orkney and Shetland are a lifeline link upon which many, often fragile communities rely. However, funding of these services is at breaking point as the spiralling cost to both local councils posed a real threat to their future viability.
In order to safeguard these services, Northern Isles MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur have in recent weeks engaged in discussions with the Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay in order to persuade him to change the budget.
Prior to the Stage 1 Budget debate in Holyrood today, Mr Mackay confirmed in writing to Mr Scott and Mr McArthur that he accepted their case and would “provide additional dedicated resource support in financial year 2018-19 for the Orkney and Shetland internal ferry services.”
In a statement, Tavish Scott MSP and Liam McArthur MSP said:
“From the outset we have made clear the importance of these lifeline internal ferry services to the communities and constituents we represent.
“On that basis, we have engaged in discussions with the Cabinet Secretary, made the case and persuaded him to change the budget.
“We have achieved what we set out to do on behalf of our constituents. As a result, internal ferry services in Orkney and Shetland get secure funding this year.
“In addition, we have secured a firm commitment to a defined process for finding a longer term solution to the funding and delivery of these lifeline services. We look forward to this making progress over the coming months, and ahead of the budget process for next year.
“Meantime, no-one should be in any doubt, these lifeline services were reaching crisis point. That has now been avoided.
“The previous indifference and broken promises from the Scottish Government need to be put firmly in the past.
“Our votes are not a comment on the rest of the Budget. We had a single task in our negotiations which we have achieved.
“Overall, we remain concerned that the Budget lacks the overall focus on the long term economy. It should do more to invest in people through education and mental health. We will continue to explore with the Scottish Government how that can be done.”
Notes to editors:
Please see the referenced letter from Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay MSP, attached.
Currently, unlike the rest of Scotland, the councils in the Northern Isles receive only part funding from the Scottish Government to provide internal ferries.
The annual revenue cost to Orkney Islands Council is now around £5.5million and for Shetland Islands Council it is around £5million, in return for a service that is falling further and further behind equivalent services elsewhere in the country.
On 6 December 2017, the Scottish Liberal Democrats secured the support of the Scottish Parliament in calling on the Scottish Government to deliver their commitment to fair ferry funding. Please see the motion below:
S5M-09379 Liam McArthur: Finance -That the Parliament notes the commitment from the Scottish Government to “the principle of fair-funding in the provision of ferries and ferry infrastructure” and the statement from the former transport minister and now finance secretary, Derek Mackay MSP, 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 therefore calls on the Scottish Government to set out to the Parliament how it intends to honour these commitments in relation to Orkney and Shetland internal ferry services.
The Scottish Government’s commitments, which they refused to deliver alone, are below:
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 made a clear commitment to fair funding. He 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 understands the significant financial challenges that can fall on individual local authorities, and is committed to the principle of fair-funding in the provision of ferries and ferry infrastructure.”