Councillor James Stockan, Leader of Orkney Islands Council has accused the Scottish Government of ‘blatant discrimination’ over the funding of local ferry services.
The inter island ferry fleet is an ageing one and is run by Orkney Ferries, a company owned by Orkney Islands Council. It provides services between Mainland and the smaller inhabited islands of Orkney.
Orkney Islands Council has received extra funding from the Scottish Government for the running of the inter island fleet:
- £5.5 million for 2018/2019
- £5.3 million for 2019/2020
James Stockan said:
“There can be no justification in treating Orkney differently to other communities with lifeline ferry routes.
“It is more than five years since the Government agreed that the costs involved should not result in an unfair financial burden for councils like ours.
“But today, as we look to the year ahead, there is still no commitment from Ministers to provide us with full and fair funding over the long term. Unless that changes, Orkney will be left with the oldest fleet and the highest fares in the country – and that can only be described as blatant discrimination.
“This is a burden that most other Scottish councils do not have to bear
“The greater the burden placed on the Council to keep the ferries running, the greater the risk of severe cuts to other vital services our community depends upon.
“We need a long-term commitment from the Government to fully fund the cost of running the service and replacing vessels with modern, cheaper-to-run ferries of a standard you would expect on routes as important as these.”
Local Government Funding
According to research for the Scottish Parliament (2nd July 2019):
The greatest reduction in real terms revenue funding per head between 2013-14 and 2019-20 has been for Eilean Siar, at £572.
The greatest reduction in real terms revenue funding per head between 2013-14 and 2019-20 for a wholly mainland authority has been for Glasgow City, which has seen its funding per head reduce by £270.
Of the mainland authorities, North Ayrshire has seen the most minimal change to its real terms revenue funding per head, with a £32 decrease between 2013-14 and 2019-20.
In the context of island authorities, Orkney has seen the smallest change to real terms revenue funding per head between 2013-14 and 2019-20, at -£90.
There is also funding to Local Authorities which is ring fenced – this means it can only be used for certain services to ensure the continuity of their delivery nationally such as Early Learning and Childcare Expansion and the Pupil Equity Funding.
Ring-fenced funds as a proportion of Total Revenue settlement, 2013-14 and 2019-20
The research also looked at the funding per head as a % of the national, Scottish average. Orkney has a 14% point increase from 2013-14 to 2019-20.
Local government funding per head, % of the Scottish average, percentage point change from 2013-14 to 2019-20
Ferry Fares Between Orkney and the Scottish Mainland
Council Leader James Stockan has also criticised the Scottish Government for not yet fully introducing RET (Road Equivalent Tariff) between Orkney and the Scottish mainland.
“The roll out of RET began on West of Scotland ferry routes more than a decade ago, reducing fares for local people visitors alike.
“It is outrageous that we in Orkney are still waiting for RET and that there appears to be no urgency or political will from the Government to resolve this.
“Again, this is a clear case of discrimination against Orkney and our community will find it abominable that the money the Government has saved by failing to introduce RET on our routes has been spent elsewhere – when it could have been committed to supporting our internal ferry service.
“This is why I have written to the First Minister and appealed for her to intervene and ensure that Orkney is treated as fairly as other coastal communities with lifeline ferry services.”
The roll out of RET to Orkney was put on hold due to a legal challenge by Pentland Ferries – a commercial operator who works the route from St Margaret’s Hope, Orkney to Gills Bay, Scotland. Ferry Fares: Delay in Orkney – Shetland 20% Cut from Saturday
You can read the judgment from the Scottish Courts 26th April 2019 here: PENTLAND FERRIES AGAINST SCOTTISH MINISTERS
The dispute is this. The petitioner says that in order to assess market failure it is necessary to look at the Pentland Firth as one market. The petitioner is able to operate their service without a subsidy. That in itself, the petitioner submits, is testimony to the fact that there is no market failure. It follows that the decision to subsidise the Scrabster route is unlawful. The respondents, on the other hand, say that they first have to determine what routes are required in order to provide adequate maritime transport services and then assess in relation to each route whether it can be provided without a subsidy. The question then is whether or not it was lawful for the respondents to designate the Scrabster route as an SGEI.
The judgment concludes:
It is notable that on the last occasion when the NIFS [Northern Isles Ferry Service] was tendered the Scrabster route was offered as a standalone contract. No one bid for it and no operator has since shown an interest in operating the Scrabster route alone.
I shall sustain the respondents’ third and fourth pleas in law and refuse the petition.
The legal challenge is now with the European Commission although the status of it is not fully known.
From January 2020 Orkney and Shetland islanders will have a 20% year round discount on cabin fares on Aberdeen-Kirkwall-Lerwick Northlink routes, and a three year fares freeze for passengers, non-commercial vehicles and cabins on those routes. Residents of Orkney or Shetland receive a 30% discount on standard NorthLink Ferries fares when using an Islander ID to book.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame