Fresh demands are being made for the Scottish government to deliver a fair funding package for ferries following unanimous calls by a cross-party parliamentary committee.
The recommendation follows the rural economy and connectivity committee’s scrutiny of the SNP-led authority’s draft budget.
In their report, published this morning, the committee called on the Edinburgh administration to “treat this matter as a priority and to satisfactorily resolve it by the conclusion of the current consideration of the draft budget.”
In a joint statement with his Orkney counterpart Liam McArthur, Shetland’s MSP Tavish Scott said the committee had done “the right thing by island communities” and urged the Scottish government now to do the same.
“Internal ferry services in Orkney and Shetland provide a genuine lifeline upon which some of the most fragile communities in the country are entirely dependent. It simply isn’t acceptable that these services continues to put at risk due to a failure by the government to honour its promises over fair funding.
“We therefore welcome this latest intervention from the rural economy and connectivity committee.
“MSPs from all parties on this committee have recognised the urgency of getting this particular issue resolved as soon as possible.
“There can be no credible talk of ‘island proofing’ or a fair deal for our island communities without fair funding of the internal ferry services upon which they rely.”
The statement added: “We urge the Finance Secretary to act and act quickly. This report shows that he is increasingly isolated as even his own backbench MSPs on the committee have said enough is enough and it is time to get on with delivering the promises he has made.
“It is particularly helpful that the committee has been so explicit about the timetable, insisting that this must be delivered before the conclusion of the current budget process. With industrial action already underway on services within Orkney, this recognition of the urgency is timely and very welcome. The Finance Secretary must now respond. There are no excuses left.”
Last year council leaders held meetings with Scottish Ministers over the possibility of a ferry funding deal, and voiced their disappointment when no measures were revealed in the Scottish government’s budget.
But this week the chairman of the SIC’s environment and transport committee, Ryan Thomson, said he hoped measures could be implemented.
Speaking at a special meeting of the full council, he said discussions were being held on a daily basis.
A final debate on the budget is due to be held at Holyrood on 21st February.