Maree Todd MSP: Voting for a Reduction in Ferry fares

While I was extremely pleased to back the Scottish Government’s support for jobs, wages and public services in Orkney and Shetland in Stage 3 of the Budget last week, it was disheartening to see the MSPs representing the island constituencies vote against it.

Even under extreme budgetary pressure from Westminster, the Scottish Government’s budget will provide over £90m extra for local public services.

It is mind-boggling to see the Lib Dem MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur choosing to oppose investment in communities in Orkney and Shetland.

Despite continuing Tory austerity, the Scottish Government’s budget will deliver above inflation investment of over £90 million in the local NHS and over £2 million extra for local schools.

Additionally, 143 businesses in Orkney and Shetland will benefit from the new rates relief set out in this budget.

Personally, I took great pleasure in voting for the commitment to a reduction in ferry fares for routes in the Northern Isles. Having worked very hard throughout this budget process in discussions with the Scottish Government to achieve that, I was delighted to see that I have been able to make progress on this with the inclusion of a commitment to a fares reduction in the final budget.

That made it all the more disappointing that Liam McArthur and Tavish Scott voted against this budget, given how much people and communities in Orkney and Shetland stood to gain from it.

They have put their party before their constituents by voting against investment in their areas and against a commitment to reduce ferry fares. Many people in Orkney and Shetland will be feeling very let down by their actions.

The Scottish Government’s Draft Budget commits to spending in Orkney includes action to reduce fares on ferry services, £46.7m for NHS Orkney, and bespoke funding structure for the new Orkney hospital.

Elsewhere, and of particular concern to Orkney’s farmers, new analysis has revealed the multitude of threats facing Scottish agriculture as a result of a Tory “hard” Brexit. Subsidies, freedom of movement, and food name protections were highlighted as dangers facing the sector.

It is appalling that the UK government has failed to provide concrete assurance to those working in the agricultural industry during this time of uncertainty.

The agricultural industry is vital to Scotland, and even more critical in a farming stronghold such as Orkney, where the food and drink sector is of growing importance.

As Highland and Islands MSP, farming plays a key role in strengthening the social fabric of many of the rural communities that I represent, and not least in Orkney.

Payments to farmers and rural communities in Scotland under the Common Agricultural Policy are currently worth around £500 million annually. For many farmers they make the difference between making a profit or breaking even.

Despite this, there is no information on what will replace the CAP once Britain leaves the EU and it is unclear how a UK budget for agriculture will be allocated.

Our farmers deserve better than to be dismissed by a Tory government obsessed with their hard Brexit.

This is a fortnightly column by local SNP MSP Maree Todd

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