SHETLAND Islands Council is being asked to contribute up to £25,000 towards the cost of chartering a western isles ferry to provide cover on the Pentland Firth for three weeks at the end of this month.
Councillors meet on Thursday to discuss a proposal to draw between £15,000 and £25,000 from the underspent infrastructure budget to charter the Hebridean Isles from 23 January until 13 February.
The move follows last week’s visit by Scottish transport minister Keith Brown to the isles to discuss, amongst other things, the disruption caused by an extended refit period for the three NorthLink ferries.
Shetland’s seafood industry is particularly anxious about relying on a single ferry for nine weeks, including three weeks when the Orkney ferry Hamnavoe is in dry dock and is being replaced by one of the Shetland vessels.
There are also concerns Shetland will only be served by a single ferry during its most important winter occasion for tourists, the Lerwick fire festival Up Helly Aa on 31 January.
Mr Brown told the council the government and NorthLink could afford to pay 90 per cent of the £250,000 cost of hiring in the Caledonian MacBrayne vessel at the end of this month.
However his suggestion the SIC could stump up the rest of the cash has caused controversy, especially in Orkney where they are angry that their wealthier neighbours are being asked to contribute towards a less comfortable and slower vessel to serve their route.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott met with SIC leader Josie Simpson and transport partnership chairman Allan Wishart on Monday to discuss the proposal.
Mr Scott said the council was right to play a part in providing a reliable shipping link to Aberdeen, but condemned the government for setting up a row between the island authorities.
He said: “The SIC do need to get something in return for any investment they make in a service which should be funded by the Scottish government.”
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