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Council / Ferry funding raised again in chamber as councillor hits out at government

Lerwick Town Hall.

THE SCOTTISH Government has a “duty to deliver the commitment that it made” on the principle of fair funding for internal ferries.

That was the stern message from south mainland councillor Allison Duncan at a meeting of the full Shetland Islands Council on Wednesday after he referred to the the local authority’s anticipated funding gap over the next few years.

Councillors were presented with a report from auditors Deloitte on the last financial year which said that the council’s estimated funding gap of £15.6 million by 2023/24 is “optimistic” and could be 40 per cent out.

Shetland Islands Council requested £7.9 million from the Scottish Government for running its ferries in 2019/20, but it only received £5.2 million, leading to the local authority to dip “unsustainably” into its reserves to cover the shortfall.

This comes on top of a 10.3 per cent reduction in core revenue funding since 2014/15.

The issue of not receiving full fair funding for internal ferries has been a regular topic in the council chamber in recent months and Duncan was not shy in bringing it up again on Wednesday.

He said Shetland should not be treated differently to other island groups like the Western Isles, which is covered when it comes to ferry costs.

Duncan also claimed the SNP government can “find money in an instant” when they need to, giving examples such as the Ferguson Marine shipyard and Prestwick Airport.

“We are asking for a pittance of that,” he said.

“The ferries is the lifeline of our islands and the contribution they make to the economy is enormous.”

Representatives from the council, meanwhile, met with public finance minister Kate Forbes on Tuesday and the SIC’s fair funding request – which is set to stretch to £9.49 million for 2020/21 – was on the agenda.

Speaking after the meeting, council leader Steven Coutts said that “if we don’t receive this funding, this will have a very significant future impact on the delivery of services for the people of Shetland”.

“The council is at the forefront of delivering services for our community,” he added.

“We must work hard to ensure the services we provide enable all in our community to achieve the best outcomes they can, but continued reductions in council funding from central government make the process very challenging.”