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Transport / ‘The tone of the conversation has changed’ – SIC confident ferry replacement deal can be struck with government

Photo: Shetland News

URGENTLY needed new ferries on Shetland’s inter-island routes could be financed with the help of the Scottish Futures Trust rather than funded by the council.

The news emerged as the “tone of the conversation” about who is responsible for coming up with the tens of millions of pounds needed to replace Shetland’s ageing ferry fleet appears to have changed considerably.

No longer is it the case that the Scottish Government insists that these are the council’s vessels and hence the council’s problem.

Chief executive Maggie Sandison said she was pleased with the commitments given at a recent meeting of a task force on local authority ferry fleet replacement.

“It’s now seen as a collective issue we need to work on together,” she said.

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison. Photo: Shetland News

“We moved from ‘this is your problem’ to ‘let’s work together’ – that’s a major change. We worked hard to secure the recognition that the council can’t do it on its own.”

The minutes of the meeting held on 14 March and chaired by then deputy first minister John Swinney read: “There was a general agreement on the need to work together to support SIC’s consideration of fleet replacement options and secondly potential fixed link and other options.”

Whilst the Scottish Government and its agency Transport Scotland are clear that they would not fund new ferries entirely, there is work getting under way to explore new ways of funding ferries using the Scottish Futures Trust.

Set up in 2008, the trust is a government vehicle to finance large infrastructure projects, including the building of new schools.

Meetings between the SIC, Transport Scotland’s ferry unit and the futures trust are in the process of being organised, Sandison said.

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The director of ferries at the government agency, Roddy Macdonald, is due to come to Shetland to see first-hand the issues facing island communities.

The council’s chief executive said that developing models for financing ferries using the Scottish Futures Trust was encouraging because the SIC would also have a need for vessels even if tunnels were built to connect the larger islands to the mainland.

Using a Scotland-wide approach would also have the advantage that new ferries built for Shetland could be deployed elsewhere in Scotland once tunnels have been constructed.

“New ferries should not stop discussions about investments into tunnels,” Sandison said, adding that using those new ferries Scotland-wide could only be a good thing and was certainly in the interest of the Scottish Government.

Meanwhile, Transport Scotland has said it will confirm all future arrangements for the task force, “including attendance by Scottish ministers and Scottish Government officials”, in due course.

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