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Transport / Disappointment as ferry settlement falls short

Shetland Islands Council will receive an extra £5 million next financial year to run the inter island ferry service. Photo: Shetland NewsThe Scottish Government will give the SIC £5.2 million in fair ferry funding, £2.7m less than the council had asked for. Photo: Shetland Newsd

SHETLAND Islands Council transport chairman Ryan Thomson said he was “bitterly disappointed” with a £5.2m settlement from Holyrood for running inter island ferries.

Thomson said that a “political decision” had been taken by ministers not to provide £7.9m that Transport Scotland had agreed was necessary to fully fund the internal ferry service that connects mainland Shetland to the islands.

The north isles councillor said that there would be no repetition of an “unsustainable” draw down of the council’s reserves that had been added to the 2019 budget to enable the ferry service.

The news that Shetland will get £2.7m less than sought while Orkney will get £5.3m defies understanding of what had been agreed with officials, said Thomson.

He added: “This is Donald Trump politics where you say one thing and do another.”

Thomson said that for the past year talks with Transport Scotland had been conducted “openly, honestly and productively”, but somewhere between official recognition of the needs of the internal ferry service and ministerial decision, there had been a slip.

“We need to establish the rationale behind this year’s figures. The government continues to agree to the principal of fair ferry funding but they do not deliver on that commitment.”

Thomson said that if governmental thinking had changed, the council needed to know in order to prepare for the future.

One option that the SIC has agreed to look into the legalities of handing the service back to Holyrood – an option that is highly unpopular with councillors; nor is it believed to be wanted by Holyrood.

The other possibility is to plunder other budgets in order to fully fund the ferries, another route the council is loathe to go down.

Thomson added that with a “£450m Holyrood underspend” and a £54m government contingency fund, there is no reason for the funds to have been withheld.

He said a rock solid commitment would have to come from ministers over the next 12 months, as the council could not sustain such a funding gap.