A North Isles councillor has criticised the SIC’s attempts to slash its spending, claiming the outer isles are being forced to bear the brunt of the cuts.
Robert Henderson said Lerwick and the surrounding areas had been protected from the massive programme agreed by members in February, which was aimed at shaving over £15 million from the council’s spending.
His comments came after a petition signed by over 2,000 people calling for the SIC to reconsider its planned cuts to the inter-island ferry service was presented to councillors today.
The council is carrying out a review aimed at finding yearly spending cuts of £1.7 million within the £13 million ferries budget.
A number of proposals are due to come before the council in October, although any changes which will be made are unlikely to be implemented until next year.
But Mr Henderson said many people had overlooked the contribution made to the wider economy by smaller islands such as Yell or Unst, insisting any cuts implemented should be made fairly across the whole of Shetland.
He said: “My views are that folk in the isles see the ferry service as their road, and any withdrawal in service is going to have a catastrophic effect on the wellbeing of the community.
“I always support the provision of a good ferry service for all outer isles. All the outer isles provide a lot of employment for Mainland Shetland, and that’s what a lot of folk overlook.
“I know cuts have to be made but my argument is that we should make the cuts equally across the community of Shetland. We’ve not had any massive cuts that would have an effect on Lerwick, for instance.
“We can’t make Shetland the Central Mainland of Shetland. We need to keep Shetland as it is. In the outlying areas, whether they be in Sumburgh, Unst or Fetlar, we need to treat Shetland as one community. The isles seem to be victimised more than other parts of Shetland.”
The petition with 2,106 signatures was handed to members of the environment and transport committee. It came about after organiser Rosemary Johnson started a Facebook group entitled “Sign up to stop the SIC cutting lifeline ferry services”.
Among the measures the local authority consulted on at a series of meetings in June are cuts to timetables, reducing crew numbers and removing one of the two ferries on the Yell Sound route.
Since gathering the signatures Mrs Johnson has written to every SIC councillor setting out why island residents – and many on the Mainland who signed the petition too – were unhappy with many of the proposals.
Mrs Johnson said she was very pleased with the response to her campaign. She had only hoped to glean an indication of what people in the outer-isles had thought about the proposed ferry cuts, but had been encouraged by the support from people on Mainland Shetland too.
SIC director of infrastructure Phil Crossland said one option open for debate was possibility of putting the service out to tender.
He said: “Clearly the petition presented today will feed into [the] review process alongside all the feedback we’ve had from the infrastructure consultation meetings where we have been round all the isles and communities within Shetland.”