THE Scottish Government’s budget for 2019 appears to contain no extra cash for inter-island ferries despite a “clear” understanding by Transport Scotland of the “reasonable” case made by Shetland Islands Council.
Council leader Steven Coutts welcomed “some movement” on council funding but added the local authority had not seen the full details of the budget deal that was approved by Scottish Parliament on Thursday.
“At this stage we have seen no indication on fair ferry funding. Our position remains that full and fair funding of ferry services is required in 2019/20 and beyond,” he said.
“We will be seeking detail from government on their plans for taking their fair funding commitment forward.
“No settlement for Shetland Islands Council can be considered fair while we have the inequality of having to subsidise our lifeline ferry services, as well as provide essential services for our community.”
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said that the budget contained a £50 million reduction in money for adult social care services in Scotland – roughly corresponding to a £1 million cut in services looked after by the council/NHS Integrated Joint Board in Shetland.
Scott’s interpretation of the budget was at odds with that of the Scottish Greens whose support had helped the minority SNP government get backing for the budget by 67 votes to 58.
Green MSP John Finnie said that his intervention had netted an extra £1.1 million for Shetland and that local councils will have access to £200 million to spend as they see fit, compared to what had been on offer originally from the SNP.
But Scott said that there was no extra cash for inter-island ferries far less the £2.5 million that the SIC had believed might be coming its way.
He added: “This budget puts big pressure on services for the elderly and is reducing the amount of money from what was promised in December.
“It is all smoke and mirrors as always with budgets – they give with one hand and take with the other. The government have not given to the local authorities what COSLA (the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) was asking for. The SNP and Greens are saying it is all fantastic, but I think not.”
According to the Greens, when combined with existing local revenue powers, the budget will close the £237m gap in council funding, identified by COSLA.
The Greens also welcomed an “agreement by ministers” for a timescale for “replacing the broken, unfair Council Tax system”.
This would be developed by a cross-party process starting before the summer, and legislation will be published before the end of this session of parliament. A visitor levy might also help plug that funding gap.
Green Highlands and Islands MSP Finnie said: “The public rely on local services such as schools and social care, and local facilities such as sports centres and libraries.
“Today’s Green budget deal means that Shetland Islands Council now has an additional £1.1 million to protect these services and the jobs of front line workers.
“It’s welcome that after consistent Green pressure the SNP Government has seen sense and committed to immediate action and longer-term reform.”
Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said the SNP and Greens had agreed a package that will “further harm communities and leave councils like Shetland to pick up the pieces.”
He added: “Despite the urging of the council and island representatives, there is nothing new to protect and provide genuinely fair funding for Shetland’s inter-island ferries. The Greens, however, have been sold vague promises about council tax reform but with any actual action ruled out by the SNP until after the next Scottish elections in 2021.
“Instead the SNP have broken their own manifesto promises yet again by increasing the cap on council tax in an attempt to shift the blame for local cuts from the Scottish Government to local councils. This is a bad deal for Shetland and will still mean cuts from already hard-pressed councils across Scotland.”
The budget still has two more rounds of scrutiny to go through before it becomes law.