A THREE-STRONG delegation from Shetland Islands Council will meet Scotland’s finance minister on Thursday in the hope of securing greater financial help to plug a £7.6 million shortfall in funding for inter-island ferry services.
Council leader Cecil Smith will be accompanied by outgoing SIC chief executive Mark Boden and finance manager Jonathan Belford to meet Derek Mackay in Edinburgh.
It comes as the council continues attempts to hold the SNP government to its pledge to put “fair funding” in place for council-run ferry services, which are largely underwritten by the government on Scotland’s west coast.
The council’s environment and transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson said there was a sense that the government is “definitely listening” to the case made by Shetland councillors and their Orkney counterparts.
But whether any extra money will be forthcoming at a time when there is pressure on all aspects of government spending following seven years of austerity is another matter.
Thomson said: “We’re hoping to get clarity tomorrow. He [Mackay] is the man who holds all the purse strings, he’s the man we need to speak to with regards to this.”
The SIC currently spends £7.6 million more than it receives – nearly half the entire £15.8 million revenue budget for ferry services.
That is without considering the capital funding requirements. Assuming new vessels and ferry terminals – rather than fixed links – are the chosen option, a programme amounting to £120 million of spending over the next 18 years will be required.
Again, the council argues that the government should pick up the tab for that expenditure.
Thomson, one of three North Isles members, added: “It’s incredibly important not just in terms of next year’s budget, but in terms of where we stand going forward. Given the news coming out of Unst [about a possible new space station], it is even more critical that we get some sort of fair funding.”