The North Isles could become devoid of young folk if ferry services are cut, councillor Robert Henderson told a meeting of the council’s environment and transport committee today.
Mr Henderson said councillors should take a “long hard look” at the implications before cutting any services. He said: “Isles folk consider they are a forgotten area. There is a fear in the isles that if ferry services are cut, they will be tied to their home patch for a significant part of the day. Young folk will be the first to vote with their feet.”
This would mean not enough young people to look after older residents, he added. Councillor Jonathan Wills said that communities could find themselves “gated at 5pm”. However he understood the “enormity” of the problem of trying to make savings.
Mr Henderson’s fear was voiced ahead of a consultation with communities which will start in Whalsay next week. Executive infrastructure director Phil Crossland said the reaction of community councils and residents would be assessed, and he would bring the ferries review outcome to the council meeting at the beginning of October.
Mr Henderson accepted that the ferries budget had been overspent by half a million pounds but said the price of fuel was not going to alter and realised it would be difficult to make savings without cutting the service.
But, he said, ferry prices had risen by 15 per cent, of which only five per cent was due to high fuel prices. In the same period bus fares and only risen by two per cent. He said: “Why penalise ferry users? It’s basically a tax on island life.”
Dr Wills said that unions had pointed out there was an “awful lot of bureaucracy” in the service, and that some ferries could technically be considered to be overmanned. Mr Crossland gave his assurance that all suggestions for saving money would be looked at.
Convener Malcolm Bell called for more “robustness” in collecting fares and chairman of the meeting Allan Wishart said that new ticket machines were on order which would make it easier to record numbers and data. Mr Crossland said this was part of the “spend to save” strategy.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Henderson said: “We need to look at fixed links basically to let islanders come and go as they want to, rather than be restricted to movement for a few hours in the middle of the day.” This could happen, he said, because changes in the ferry service would be decided by democratic vote.