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Politics / Fair ferry funding spat continues

The ferry terminal at Toft, where queues were reported on Monday morning on the the first day of the new ferries timetable.One of the Yell ferries berthing at Toft pier.

HIGHLANDS and Islands MSP Maree Todd has defended her government’s record on supporting local authorities amidst calls by the Lib Dems for the SNP to honour their commitment towards fair ferry funding.

Following last week’s unveiling of the Scottish Government’s spending plans for 2020/21, which potentially leaves the SIC short of more than £4 million in funding for its inter-island ferry service, the minister for children and early learning said the government had provided more than £32 million in additional funding over the last three years.

Both Northern Isles MSPs, Liam McArthur and Beatrice Wishart, have now written to public finance minister Kate Forbes reminding her that the principle of fair ferry funding had been accepted not only by parliament but also by former finance secretary Derek Mackay, yet the SNP minority government had so far failed to deliver on it.

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Maree Todd. Photo: Shetland NewsMaree Todd MSP. Photo: Shetland News

Shetland Islands Council requires £9.49 million in additional funding to cover the running cost of its ferries, while Orkney Islands Council has estimated the cost for 2020/21 at £7 million. In the government’s draft budget £11.5 million has been earmarked for inter-island ferry services.

Todd said: “Whilst the local authority is wholly responsible for the ferry services they provide, Scottish ministers do understand the financial pressures that fall on individual local authorities.

“The Scottish Government, therefore, continues to engage in open, respectful dialogue with the local authorities in which we hope to find a long-term, sustainable solution to this issue.

“I’m pleased to see record investments set out in this budget, from £15 billion in health & social care services to £645 million for the expansion of early learning and childcare.”

But Wishart responded by saying that Maree Todd was more interested in being a cheerleader for the government than an advocate for the islands she represents.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart. Photo: Shetland News

She said: “Rather than speak up in defence of fair ferry funding for Orkney and Shetland, she chooses to shout down those who do. It is pretty clear, therefore, where her priorities lie.

McArthur added: “In 2018, the SNP government accepted the principle of fair funding for our lifeline internal ferry services. In return, [former MSP] Tavish Scott and I voted to support the budget.

“Since then, however, the SNP has sought to backslide on this commitment and short change the communities in Orkney and Shetland. This year, that amounts to a shortfall of £5m.

“It is not good enough for SNP Ministers to claim they are open to negotiation if they so brazenly fail to honour the commitments they have made in previous negotiations. What trust can anyone have in the promises they make?”  

But Todd said the budget had been set against the backdrop of heightened uncertainty and risk, created by the UK Government and their decision to delay the UK budget until March.

“Despite the difficult situation we have found ourselves in, the Scottish Government has produced a budget which offers both vision and leadership at a crucial moment for our country and I am confident that Shetlanders will see its benefits,” she said.