Inter-island ferry services have – at last – been handed support by the Scottish government, with £5 million being pledged by the Holyrood administration for 2018/19.
Opposition parties have been lining up to take credit for the change of mind from the SNP authority, which had initially failed to include any details of fair ferry funding in its outlined budget.
Today’s announcement comes after the Green Party struck a deal with the Scottish government to push through the spending and taxation plans.
Chairman of Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee, Ryan Thomson, welcomed the news – although he said the allocation for Shetland, on top of £5.5 million for Orkney ferries, fell some way short of the £7 million-plus being sought in revenue the council had been seeking on top of capital funding.
“Shetland and Orkney have been given funding towards our internal ferries, which is very, very welcome news,” he said.
“It’s not the full ask but it’s without doubt the biggest step forward that we’ve had in terms of securing our internal ferry service.
“It [the funding] will be used to cover revenue costs for the financial year 2018/19. It’s a very, very welcome step forward.”
He said thanks needed to go to Finance Minister Derek Mackay as well as Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf, as well as the local Liberal Democrat MSPs, Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur.
He said there was still hope that more funding for ferries could come from central government in the future.
“It secures our internal ferry service in the short term, but obviously there is still a lot of work to be done.
“Derek announced that the Scottish government will continue to explore fair funding with both Shetland and Orkney councils, and that’s very much welcome.”
Currently, unlike the rest of Scotland, the councils in the Northern Isles receive only part funding from the Scottish government to provide internal ferries.
Mr Thomson added: “Shetland Islands Council will continue to pursue the principal of fair funding in line with the Western Isles, which is a hundred per cent funding of our own ferry service.
“There has been an incredible amount of work gone on behind the scenes. Since I came in, in May, it was pretty much straight into fair funding meetings within the first week.”
He said credit needed to go to previous councillors, including his predecessor on the environment and transport committee, Michael Stout, and the council’s former leader, Gary Robinson.
The Lib Dems highlighted talks they had held in recent weeks with Mr Mackay in order to “persuade” him to change the budget.
In a statement, Tavish Scott MSP and Liam McArthur MSP said: “From the outset we have made clear the importance of these lifeline internal ferry services to the communities and constituents we represent.
“On that basis, we have engaged in discussions with the Cabinet Secretary, made the case and persuaded him to change the budget.
“We have achieved what we set out to do on behalf of our constituents. As a result, internal ferry services in Orkney and Shetland get secure funding this year.
“In addition, we have secured a firm commitment to a defined process for finding a longer term solution to the funding and delivery of these lifeline services. We look forward to this making progress over the coming months, and ahead of the budget process for next year.
“Meantime, no-one should be in any doubt, these lifeline services were reaching crisis point. That has now been avoided.
“The previous indifference and broken promises from the Scottish government need to be put firmly in the past.
“Our votes are not a comment on the rest of the budget. We had a single task in our negotiations which we have achieved.”
SNP Ministers previously challenged the Lib Dems to state whether they would support the budget if it included fair ferry funding – a call that met with stony silence from the opposition benches at Holyrood.
Now, though, the Lib Dems have broken their silence on what – overall – they still regard as a poor budget.
“We remain concerned that the budget lacks the overall focus on the long term economy,” the statement added.
“It should do more to invest in people through education and mental health. We will continue to explore with the Scottish government how that can be done.”