MSPs for the Northern Isles have condemned the Scottish Government for voting down an amendment to yesterday’s carbon neutral islands announcement which aimed at introducing more targeted support for inter-island ferry replacements – as well as tackling fuel poverty in Shetland and Orkney.
The move by Orkney MSP Liam McArthur lost the vote in parliament late on Tuesday afternoon by 65 to 52 votes.
The Lib Dem politician said that excluding the inter-island ferry services from the government initiative “makes absolutely no sense at all”.
But introducing the government’s plan to help six Scottish islands, including Yell in Shetland and Hoy in Orkney, to become carbon neutral by 2040, cabinet secretary for rural affairs and the islands Mairi Gougeon said she was unable to support McArthur’s move.
She said the Orkney MSP’s amendment to her bill didn’t recognise the clear division in responsibilities of ministers and local authorities.
“The Scottish Government does absolutely recognise the importance of the other ferry services in Scotland, including those internal ferries which are the responsibility of our local authorities,” Gougeon said.
“In relation to the fuel poverty point raised in the amendment, powers related to the energy market are reserved, so the UK Government holds most of the levers to address the pressures on energy bills.
“But that being said we have allocated over £1 billion since 2009 to tackle fuel poverty as well as to improve energy efficiency, and we are committed to continuing to spend more per head on energy efficiency in remote, rural and island areas.”
There is as yet little detail available how these six islands will achieve carbon neutrality by 2040.
Wishart said it was disappointing that the Scottish Government didn’t take this opportunity to help address fuel poverty and ferry emissions in the isles.
“Most people, businesses and organisations recognise the seriousness of the climate emergency and want to play their part,” she said.
“But often the best means to reduce emissions, such as retrofitting a home, is simply too expensive to take on without financial support.
McArthur added: “While it is welcome that the government plans to support six islands to become carbon neutral by 2040, this cannot be the sum of its ambition.
“This must be a process that includes and supports all islands. Key to that, of course, will be reducing emissions from transport and heat. In that context, the exclusion of Orkney and Shetland’s internal ferry services from the government’s Connectivity Plan makes absolutely no sense at all.
“Any ambition to create carbon neutral islands cannot ignore the urgent need to deliver low-emission ferries. That can only be achieved with government support.
“So too when it comes to reducing emissions from heat. Island communities, such as Orkney, suffer the highest levels of fuel poverty in the country and measures to combat this are more challenging and costly to deliver.”
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