THE SCOTTISH Greens have pointed to the number of cancellations on Shetland’s inter-island ferry network last year as a reason why a “permanent solution” needs to be struck with the Scottish Government over funding the services.
Freedom of information request figures obtained by the party’s Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie show that there were 97 cancellations in 2018/19 due to breakdowns or technical issues.
He said they are an “absolute necessity going forward” – and something he would press the government on if he was elected as MSP.
The figures for ferry cancellations in 2018/19 showed most scrapped sailings were due to the weather.
Of the 97 technical cancellations, 59 of them related to the Yell ferries the Daggri and Dagalien.
There were also 51 cancellations due to crew shortages.
Shetland Islands Council has received extra funding from the Scottish Government in the last couple of years to put towards covering the cost of the internal ferries, but the money has fallen short of the full ask.
For this financial year the council received £5.2 million, which was shy of its £7.9 million ask.
The Greens said they have “delivered millions for internal ferry funding through budget negotiations with the Scottish Government in the last two years”.
The party’s by-election candidate Debra Nicolson said: “Shetlanders deserve top quality services, with modern vessels serving these lifeline routes.
“The ferries need to be accessible for everyone, but sadly, that isn’t always the case at the moment. Older boats are also more likely to break down, and we can see from these figures that nearly 100 sailings were cancelled in 2018 due to technical issues.
“The climate emergency is going to mean more periods of adverse weather, a factor that needs to be taken into account for future proofing our vessels and our ports.
“These routes serve people’s daily commute, provide transport for goods and facilitate the important tourist trade which increasingly supports many jobs in Shetland. It’s time that proper investment was delivered, bringing benefits to all our communities.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Shetland Beatrice Wishart, however, said that the Greens’ claim that they have had anything to do with securing ferry funding was “farcical”.
“My Lib Dem colleagues Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur put the needs of their constituents in the Northern Isles first when they voted for the SNP’s budget solely to safeguard internal ferry funding,” she said.
“The parliament has already backed fair funding for ferries but the nationalist government is still trying to use ferry funding as a chess piece in its budget manoeuvres.
“It’s a shameful and manipulative way to treat the lifeline services on which every islander depends. I will fight tooth and nail to ensure our ferries have sustainable budgets and to see RET pay off for local people.”
SNP candidate Tom Wills said the overall number of inter-island cancellations represented “less than one per cent of the total ferry sailings in Shetland”.
“Of course, we do need to upgrade the older ferries and that process is underway,” he said.
“I would however say that our ferry crews are providing an excellent service as things stands. The Green’s support for the budget this year was welcome – I’m glad they co-operated with the Scottish Government on the ferries, unlike the Lib Dems who point blank refused to participate in negotiations.”
Ryan Thomson, meanwhile, said the ageing ferry fleet is a main reason why fixed links for some of Shetland’s islands, such as tunnels, need to be explored.
The North Isles councillor said there is “unprecedented support from within the council for the need for fixed links, and a great deal of support locally, but the initial outlay means that we would need support from Scottish Government”.
The government confirmed in 2016 that it would look into integrating the likes of bridges and tunnels into the National Transport Strategy Review as a specific matter, but no firm commitment has been delivered.
“It may be an expensive project, but it has the potential to improve the lives of everyone in the isles, and unlock a world of commercial opportunities for Shetland,” Thomson said.
“Better connectivity means it’s cheaper and easier for the council to provide local services.
“For me, it’s not a question of ‘can we afford it’, but rather, can we afford not to?
“I’m keen to see some real progress on it for not just those who are living on the islands and see this as a lifeline service, but for all Shetlanders who are currently having to burden the costs of the expense of the ferries.”
There are ten candidates contesting the Shetland by-election on 29 August.
They are in alphabetical order: Johan Adamson (Scottish Labour), Brydon Goodlad (Scottish Conservatives), Stuart Martin (UKIP), Debra Nicolson (Scottish Greens), Ian Scott (independent), Michael Stout (independent), Peter Tait (independent), Ryan Thomson (independent), Tom Wills (SNP) and Beatrice Wishart (Scottish Liberal Democrats).
Read more about all ten candidates at our special Shetland by-election page at: https://www.shetnews.co.uk/category/features/election-2019/