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Minister: opposition should back budget if it includes ferries cash

The Lerwick-Bressay ferry terminal. Photo: Shetland News/Neil Riddell.
The Lerwick-Bressay ferry terminal. Photo: Shetland News.

SCOTLAND’S transport minister has renewed his criticism of opposition politicians for refusing to commit to voting in favour of the 2018/19 budget if it included additional money for Shetland and Orkney’s internal ferry services.

Humza Yousaf took to Twitter following exchanges in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday to say he had asked Labour, Liberal Democrat and Tory MSPs if they would back the budget and “all three of them refused to say they would”.

SNP ministers have repeatedly said in the past three years that they support the principle of fair funding for isles ferries – Shetland Islands Council is seeking an extra £7.5 million to plug a shortfall in its ferries budget for the next financial year, while Orkney Islands Council is looking for £5.5 million.

Opposition politicians have consistently called on the government to include the funding in recent months, with the council warning cuts to services will be inevitable otherwise.

There was cross-party support for the measure during a recent Holyrood debate on the subject, but no extra cash was included in last week’s draft budget from finance secretary Derek Mackay.

Yousaf said he had now asked opposition MSPs to support the budget on six occasions and accused them of “empty, hollow words”.

Conservative list MSP for the Highlands and Islands Jamie Halcro Johnston, however, responded by saying that Yousaf had been dodging the question asked of him: “I pointed out that your predecessor as transport minister confirmed the SNP made a clear commitment to fair ferries funding. You changed the subject… again.”

Because it is a minority government, the SNP will require the support of at least one other party – widely expected to be the pro-independence Scottish Greens, who are seeking a substantial increase in funding for councils – to get their budget passed early in 2018.

After last week’s draft budget was announced, SIC environment and transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson said the local authority would continue lobbying government ministers ahead of the budget being finalised.

The SNP’s South Mainland councillor Robbie McGregor told Shetland News he was “disappointed that something hasn’t been sorted out yet, but I hope common sense will prevail at the end of the day”.