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Anger at Skerries ferry U turn

The Skerries ferry Filla, whose timetable is to be cut as part of the council's savings programme.
An archive image of the Skerries ferry Filla.

THE seventy strong community on the remote Shetland isle of Out Skerries are angry after being told it is unsafe to base their local ferry on the island to help save the local authority almost £300,000.

On Wednesday Shetland Islands Council heard that risk assessors considered no insurance company would cover the Filla if it was based on Skerries all year round due to the exposure of the south facing harbour to heavy seas.

They also heard that the six strong ferry crew, currently based on neighbouring Whalsay, would be unwilling to spend two out of every three weeks on Skerries if current arrangements were changed.

Earlier this year it looked as though the council could save £270,000 and improve the service by basing the Filla on Skerries instead of Whalsay.

However on Wednesday, SIC infrastructure director Phil Crossland said he had voiced grave reservations at the time about the safety of the Skerries pier in southerly winds.

His fears were confirmed following an inspection by marine consulting company SMCL who said the ferry could not be insured if it stayed on Skerries overnight.

Crossland added that redeploying the six Filla crewmen from Whalsay to Skerries could be considered grounds for “constructive dismissal”, costing the council up to £395,000 in severance pay.

Councillors narrowly backed North Isles councillor Robert Henderson’s call for a six week deferral during which islanders will be consulted about the risk assessment and meet the ferry crew face to face.

However the council’s transport committee chairman Allan Wishart insisted that it remained “inevitable” that the service would have to be cut from six days to five days a week, warning the delay would simply impact costs on other routes.

Skerries community council chairwoman Brenda Hay voiced islanders’ anger about having the opportunity to base the ferry locally snatched away at the last minute.

“We are all absolutely furious because we have really tried to meet the council halfway on this, and we feel we are just back to where we were eight months ago,” she said.

“We really thought we had come up with a good way for the council to save money by basing the ferry here and the timetables would have worked well for the community.”

She said they only heard by email last week of the council’s change of heart, and were annoyed because they had not asked for the ferry to based on Skerries when it was not safe.

“I really don’t know where we go from here. At least we have got a six week deferral to give us a bit of time to look at the risk assessment and work on the timetable,” she said.

The current proposal will see no ferry to the islands on Tuesday and Wednesday and less time between runs on other days of the week.

“It’s going to be a nightmare coming up with a timetable to suit the needs of the community. If we can’t get a teacher in on a Monday because of the weather we won’t be able to get them in until Thursday. That’s no use,” Hay said.