A challenge is due to be laid down to the Scottish government to honour its commitment to “fair funding” for internal ferries in Orkney and Shetland.
A debate will get underway at the Scottish Parliament tomorrow ahead of the SNP administration’s forthcoming budget.
The call for action is being launched by the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
It comes after Scottish finance secretary, Derek Mackay, faced calls to make good an earlier promise to remove the financial burden faced by the SIC in running what was described as “genuine lifeline links for island communities”.
The Lib Dems argue ferry funding is unfair because Shetland and Orkney councils receive only part funding from the Scottish government to provide internal ferries – despite a previous commitment to fair funding in the Scottish government’s Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities prospectus.
Meanwhile, inter-island ferry services are fully funded by the Scottish government in the Western Isles.
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament in November 2014, the current Finance Secretary Derek Mackay – who at that time was Transport and Islands Minister – said ferry services should not place a hindrance on any local authority.
“In the ‘Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities’ prospectus, which was published on 16th 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,” he told MSPs.
In a joint statement ahead of tomorrow’s debate, Orkney MSP Liam McArthur and his Shetland counterpart, Tavish Scott, said: “In both Orkney and Shetland, internal ferry services provide a genuine lifeline upon which some of the most fragile communities in the country are entirely dependent.
“The spiralling cost to both local councils of providing these services, however, is not sustainable and poses a real threat to their future viability.
“It is simply not right that, unlike with similar ferry services elsewhere in the country, the financial burden should fall on OIC and SIC.
“The Scottish government’s earlier commitment to ‘fair funding’ was therefore welcome, as indeed was the personal undertaking given by Derek Mackay when he was the Transport Minister.
“What is not welcome or acceptable is Mr Mackay’s refusal to keep his word and deliver on that commitment. He has an opportunity to put fair ferry funding in his budget but has chosen instead to abandon his promise and hold our island communities to ransom.
“That is not good enough and parliament will have the chance this week to make that clear to the Finance Secretary. Funding of these lifeline services is too important for Mr Mackay to offer nods and winks and then play dumb. It is time for him to deliver his promise on fair ferry funding.”
Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said he would challenge ministers on ferry funding.
“Above all, Orkney and Shetland need clarity over the SNP’s commitment to ‘fair funding’ for our internal ferries. I have challenged ministers on this pledge several times and no details have been forthcoming,” he said.
“This debate is an opportunity for opposition parties to demand answers from the Scottish government on their future intentions. Island council leaders have warned that internal ferry services will not be sustainable if no action is taken.
“Scottish Conservatives will also be pressing the Scottish government to examine the wider social and economic benefits of these services.”