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McGregor calls for fair ferries funding

SNP councillor Robbie McGregor.SNP councillor Robbie McGregor.

SHETLAND’S sole SNP councillor is urging Scottish finance secretary Derek Mackay to find extra cash to fulfil a commitment that would see the Scottish Government fund the isles’ internal ferry service.

Southend councillor Robbie MacGregor has now written to his party colleague calling on him to give the issue “full consideration”.

The Scottish government confirmed that the letter had been received, and also that Shetland and Orkney councils had submitted requests for extra funding.

MacGregor’s letter comes a day before Audit Scotland releases a major report into the funding of ferry services across the country.

In it, the financial watchdog is expected to remind the Scottish Government of its commitment to the principle ‘fair funding’ for inter island services.

As it stands, the Western Isles service is funded centrally through the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services network with no cost to the local council, while Shetland Islands Council pays around £7.5 million per year to operate nine local services.

In autumn of last year there was widespread disappointment among local politicians when it emerged that there was no extra funding for ferries in the 2017/18 budget.

Now with work continuing on next year’s draft budget, McGregor reminded the minister of the fair funding principle.

“The issue of fair funding of the ferries has been going on since your time in office as islands minister and indications were that island communities would not be disadvantaged by the high cost of local ferries,” he wrote.

“The local opinion is that the Western Isles are treated better than Shetland in that the total cost of ferries including replacement of vessels is met centrally.

“I do appreciate the current financial constraints which are being imposed on us by the Tory government in London make things extremely difficult for you to fund every request from every area of Scotland but I would point out that Shetland is an extremely expensive place for people to live in and sea travel locally has to be properly funded and is a major cost never mind getting to mainland Scotland.”

McGregor continued: “I do hope that a long term funding solution can be found for the local inter-island ferries which addresses both the revenue issues and capital replacement costs.

“I will also be writing to our local MSP Tavish Scott and urging him to engage positively with the Scottish Government during the budget process to make the funding of internal ferries a top priority.”

A spokesman for the Scottish government said: “The Scottish Government has treated local government very fairly despite the cuts to the Scottish Budget from the UK Government, with the overall increase in spending power to support local authority services amounting to over £400 million or 3.9 per cent in cash terms.

“Responsibility for internal ferries remains with the local authority. Our continued dialogue with Shetland and Orkney Islands Councils on this issue shows we remain committed to the principle of fair funding in the provision of ferry services and ferry infrastructure.

“Both councils have submitted funding requests for 2018/19 and these will be considered in due course.”

 The Audit Scotland reference to fair funding of inter island ferries can be found on page 49 of the report http://www.audit-scotland.gov.uk/uploads/docs/report/2017/nr_171019_ferry_services_em.pdf

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