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Politics / Parties clash over who secured fair ferry funding

The Geira. Photo: Shetland News

THE LIBERAL Democrats had no direct input in securing almost £19 million of fair funding for inter-island ferries in Orkney and Shetland, senior members of the SNP have insisted.

The issue raised its head again in a Lib Dems press statement issued on Monday afternoon announcing that the party would vote in support of the minority government’s budget on Tuesday.

It said the Lib Dems had been working constructively with the SNP on the budget in exchange for additional support for mental health and education. It went on to say that the party had “secured fair funding for the internal ferries in Orkney and Shetland”.

The additional money to fully fund the running cost of the internal ferry services has been fought for by the two island authorities for many years.

Robbie McGregor, Shetland’s only SNP councillor, said as far as he was concerned securing the additional money to run the internal ferry service had been “a team effort” by himself, islands minister Paul Wheelhouse, Highlands and Islands MSP Maree Todd and finance secretary Kate Forbes.

This resulted in a total of £19.2 million for internal ferry revenue funding being earmarked in the draft budget for 2021/22 when announced in parliament on 28 January. Shetland Islands Council is set to receive £10.8 million.

McGregor paid tribute to council officers and political leader Steven Coutts for their input in the discussions.

Highlands and Islands MSP Maree Todd, the minister for childcare and early years, said that as a minority government the SNP had to present an “irresistible budget” to allow other parties to support it.

“I don’t think the Lib Dems can claim credit for it. The reality is that myself, Paul Wheelhouse and Kate Forbes as finance secretary were absolutely determined to solve the problem.

“In previous years the Lib Dems have chosen to vote against additional ferry funding when it came to budget time because of their concerns of the constitution.

“This year, thankfully, they have chosen to support fair ferry funding.

“We are, of course, always trying to present a budget that is hard for opposition parties to vote against.”

She added that ever since she started to represent Shetland as part of her Highlands and Islands brief the islands had started receiving extra funding for running internal ferry services.

Shetland News contacted local MSP Beatrice Wishart, from the Liberal Democrats, to get her view.

A spokesperson for the party responded by saying: “Liberal Democrat representatives have been publicly calling for better ferry funding for several years and have engaged with the Scottish Government on an ongoing basis.

“In fact, it was because of Liberal Democrat pressure that the Scottish Government openly committed to improved ferry funding for the Northern Isles back in 2018.”

Wishart later added: “During this year’s budget negotiation process, led by Willie Rennie for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, further revenue funding was secured for internal ferry services, along with a plethora of other funding including a critical additional £120 million for mental health services.”