Training and maintenance work on inter-island ferries and their associated infrastructure has had to be cut to help find an extra £500,000 needed to fuel the council’s fleet of vessels.
The move has been made against a backdrop of ever-increasing fuel costs which have outstripped the meagre takings from an increase in fares for passengers to the outer isles by 15 per cent last year.
Today’s meeting of the council’s environment and transport committee heard the hike had failed to bring a significant increase in revenue to the council’s coffers.
Ferry service executive manager Ken Duerden told councillors at the town hall many passengers were choosing to leave their cars at the terminal, while others were sharing one vehicle. That meant there had been only a 10 per cent increase in revenue.
Mr Duerden said maintenance and training costs had been cut to help the service balance its books.
But while the service is expected to break even, he insisted the situation was unsustainable in the long term.
“The biggest problem that we’ve got with the budgets for the current financial year is the increase in fuel price, which is giving us the overspend against budget of something like half a million pounds for the whole year,” he told members.
“We’ve tried to mitigate this as much as possible by cutting back on other items such as training and maintenance of the ferries and terminals, but this can’t continue indefinitely.
“We do have to make sure we stick to the required level of training and maintenance in the near future.”
Earlier in the meeting head of infrastructure Phil Crossland admitted efforts to procure fuel more cheaply for the council were “proving quite difficult”, although he said it was a problem all local authorities faced.
Meanwhile, petrol and diesel are starting to become more affordable than they have been for some time. Some garages in Lerwick have followed the lead taken last week by filling stations in the North Mainland, which introduced the government’s 5p fuel duty reduction scheme early and dropped their pump prices accordingly.