Council described as ‘pawn in political game’ as ferry funding row intensifies
Elected members have launched renewed criticism against the Scottish government over its failure to provide fair ferry funding in the isles, with one elected member insisting the council was being used as a “pawn in a political game”.
Councillors at Monday’s policy and resources committee voiced frustration at continued failure of the SNP administration at Edinburgh to offer a better deal on lifeline services.
The SIC argues it has to cough up more than most to pay for its links to outer-island communities – unlike other local authority areas where services are heavily subsidised by the Scottish government.
The discussion came as members heard of an extra £1.75 million in funding required to pay for repair works at ferry terminal linkspans, on top of the £2 million estimated cost.
The shortfall is being funded from income from extra fees and charges expected to come into the harbour account.
Members were told the updated capital cost of £3.75 million was part of the funding ask submitted to the Scottish government as part of a fair funding request for ferries.
North Mainland councillor Alistair Cooper described it as “another example of us putting our hands in our pockets”. He later insisted the council had “to be honest” with the community about the difficulties it faced.
South Mainland member George Smith told elected members that a greater commitment was needed from the Scottish government.
“Our national government has, in my view, an obligation that they are not fulfilling,” he said.
“We’re all frustrated because we, as a local authority, know we have to give the best provision we can for our communities.
“We can only ask and hope that other agencies will play fair, but so far that’s not happened.”
Political leader Steven Coutts added: “I’m content that, as a council, we’re doing as much as we can, but we rely on our government to display fairness and equity”.
Chairman of the environment and transport committee, Ryan Thomson, said the Scottish government had made a political decision not to fully fund internal ferries.
“George [Smith] asks the question ‘what more can we do?’. What more can we do? We’ve jumped through hoops for them.”
He added there was a perception among communities that holding back funding was an SIC decision, and insisted that had to be challenged.
“We need to be clear this is something we are being forced to do. The harsh reality is we are being used as a pawn in a political game”.
It was left to SNP member Robbie McGregor to call for meaningful engagement with Edinburgh.
“Let’s stop emphasising the ‘fair’ and go for ‘full’ funding,” he said.
“Let’s engage in a reasonable manner. The negotiations are still ongoing.”