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SIC presses deputy first minister on ferry funding

SIC top brass with John Swinney (front centre). Back row (L-R): Councillors Ryan Thomson, Allison Duncan, Alastair Cooper, Emma Macdonald and Theo Smith with chief executive Maggie Sandison. Front row (L-R): Convener Malcolm Bell, Swinney and councillor George Smith. Photo: SIC

SHETLAND Islands Council (SIC) officials stressed the importance of receiving continued ‘fair funding’ for its ferries on Monday as they sat down with Scottish deputy first minister John Swinney.

The topic was one of a number of issues on the agenda as the MSP visited the isles to formally open the new Anderson High School in Lerwick.

The council received £5 million this financial year from the Scottish Government to put towards a shortfall in its budget for running its inter-island ferries, although that was short of the £7.5 million it asked for.

Officers are now looking for £7.9 million in revenue funding for 2019/20 and while Swinney could not offer any firm assurances, the issue will continue to be explored ahead of the budget setting process.

Chairman of the SIC’s transport committee Ryan Thomson described the talks as “positive”.

“Yesterday the chairs of the SIC alongside the chief executive and director of children’s services met the deputy first minister and I took the opportunity to discuss the revenue funding for our internal ferries and to seek confirmation this was included in the government’s 2019/20 budget proposals,” he said.

“I made sure to press on the minister just how essential this funding is to the SIC and our budget for the next financial year, and the potential impact failing to secure this funding would have.

“The SIC has worked very closely and positively with Transport Scotland over the last couple of years and securing a sustainable solution to our inter-island ferry funding is a top strategic priority for myself and the council as a whole.

“Talks with Mr Swinney were positive and I appreciated his time. He took on board the points we raised and further talks at the highest political level will continue in order to seek confirmation of the fair ferry funding in next year’s budget at the earliest convenience.”

Speaking to the media on Monday, Swinney said the issue of ferry funding was a matter for finance secretary Derek Mackay.

A medium-term financial plan recently adopted by the SIC worked on the assumption that ferry funding would be given by the government – but despite this, it still suggested savings of £15.6 million will have to be found across the council’s books over the next five years.

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