Council leader calls for fair ferry deal
SIC chief Cecil Smith has warned that ferry services will be cut if a fairer deal from the Scottish government is not forthcoming.
The council leader held talks with Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf yesterday.
Mr Smith voiced disappointment after the minister stated “bluntly” that he would not make funding available from his budget, and that the Scottish government had no plans to put anything forward in 2018/19.
Council leaders insist they made clear that, in the climate of increasing costs and ongoing cuts in government funding, the cost of current ferry services was unsustainable.
They warn that, without a fairer deal from the government the council’s would have little alternative but to reduce services.
However, the minister did agree to arrange a meeting for councillors with Finance Minister Derek Mackay to take the discussions forward.
“I think that the meeting was as good as I expected,” Mr Smith said in a statement.
“The disappointing thing to me is that we are no further forward with an agreement on fair ferry funding.
“If we can’t get a settlement then a serious decision will have to be considered which could mean a reduction in the ferry timetable and possibly more drastic measures.”
Council leaders insist the fair funding plea is about more than just ferries.
The call for a fairer deal, they say, concerns the future of health services, care services, education and the very existence of some of the more remote island communities.
Leaders will now also be asking all their MSPs and their parties to take up the case for fair funding during the forthcoming national budget negotiations.
Mr Smith’s comments came after chairman of the council’s environment and transport committee, Ryan Thomson, argued the Holyrood administration needed to find the cash to help fund internal ferry links (see today’s Shetland Times).
Mr Smith was joined in the meeting by Orkney’s council leader James Stockan.
They wanted to argue for Orkney and Shetland services to be treated the same way as the Clyde and Hebrides. That amounted to £11.2 million extra a year in revenue funding and also meeting capital expenditure.