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Transport / ‘Ongoing unfairness’ over ferry funding, meeting hears

FRESH pressure has been put on the Scottish Government to provide full ‘fair’ funding to Shetland Islands Council for running (SIC) its internal ferries ahead of the draft budget being announced in February.

SIC leader Steven Coutts told a meeting of the council’s environment and transport committee on Tuesday that there was an “ongoing unfairness” over the funding of the ferries.

The council has been given a total of £10.5 million for the running its internal ferries over the last couple of years, but that settlement has fallen short of the local authority’s ask. For 2020/21 the SIC is requesting over £9 million.

The issue raised its head again at Tuesday’s meeting, with Shetland Central member Davie Sandison frustrated that the matter of securing full fair funding from the government was still on the agenda.

“It’s a never-ending game we are playing,” he said.

Leader Coutts admitted it had become a “recurring theme”.

He said the council submitted its ask for revenue funding – around £9.49 million – last year.

“I can see no other option than to make sure fair funding comes to Shetland,” Coutts said.

“There is no other unanswered question [for the Scottish Government] other than do we treat the Shetland Islands fairly or not.”

SNP councillor Robbie McGregor said he would put Shetland’s interests before his party on the matter.

“I’m totally behind the leader in spite of my alliance to my own party,” he said.

“It’s an absolute priority.”

McGregor said, however, that if the government is expected to cater for remote areas then the local authority should do the same – bringing up concerns in Fair Isle over the state of a piece of road.

South mainland member George Smith, meanwhile, paid tribute to the negotiating strategy employed by Coutts and the council during talks with the government over ferry funding – one which he said featured “no antagonism” and was based on mutual trust.

“It’s with the Scottish Government to honour their commitments,” he said.

The Scottish Government’s draft budget for 2020/21 will be revealed on 6 February.