Welcome Budget News For Ferries in Orkney

  • A freeze for islander passenger and car fares on services between Orkney, Shetland and Aberdeen
  • Seeking ways to reduce passenger and car fares on ferry services to and from Orkney and Shetland
  • An additional £7.7 million to support the inter-island ferries in Orkney and Shetland.
  • Implementing the next Northern Isles Ferry Services contract
Varagen in Kirkwall credit: Mike Robertson

The Draft Scottish Budget presented by Kate Forbes, Finance Secretary in the Scottish Government has taken on board the issues of ferry fares in and to/from Orkney. The announcement made on Thursday 28th of January 2021 has been mostly welcomed by local politicians.

Leader of Orkney Islands Council, James Stockan said:

“After many years of campaigning by the council, this is very welcome news and an important day for Orkney – it will make a big difference to people’s lives in communities across the county.

“We have long argued that our ferries provide a truly lifeline service for the islands they serve – and that the operation should be fully funded by the Government, as happens in many other areas of Scotland.

“I am delighted that the Government has recognised this – as well as the strong case we put forward for additional funding that will allow year-round Sunday sailings to Rousay, Egilsay, Wyre, Hoy and Flotta and the introduction of an RET equivalent fare structure on our local routes.

“I wish to put on record my sincere thanks to Kate Forbes and Paul Wheelhouse for meeting with me last week, listening carefully to our case and responding in this positive way.

“Our ambition is to deliver a local ferry service that meets the highest national standards – with more frequent sailings to the isles, for example.

“Today’s announcement is an important step – we will be delivering an increase in service for the first time in many years. However, there is still some way to go before our inter-island service is of a standard we see elsewhere in Scotland. We will continue to engage with the Government on this – and on the need to replace the ageing ferries in our fleet.”

Also welcoming the news was Councillor Steve Sankey, co-convener of the Orkney Greens who said that the news was long overdue and commented that at the 2018 budget the Scottish Greens won an additional £5.5 million for Orkney’s ferries.

Steve Sankey said:

“We’ve been saying for years that the knock-on effect of having to fund the deficit in ferry funding has impacted on us here greatly,and has precipitated budgetary pressures throughout Orkney.We emphasised that the situation was grossly unfair, particularly when compared to the huge increases in funding afforded to Calmac out west.

“The news that OIC will receive £7.9 million next year is a relief, and will enable improvements in service such as Sunday sailings to the outer isles.

“Fairness with funding is all we’ve ever asked for, and now 12 years after Road Equivalent Tariff was first piloted, it seems that it will also finally be rolled out on our internal routes, although there is still no mention of the Pentland Firth.”

“Whilst this is good news, it now means that we turn our attention to the replacement process for our ancient ferry fleet which ranges in age from 20 to 44 years. It’s essential that any replacement proposals commit to a renewable fuel component, be it hydrogen, ammonia or electric, so that we can greatly reduce the high carbon emissions that afflict our marine transport sector.”

Highlands and Islands MSP , Maree Todd, SNP said that the draft Scottish Budget had allocated £19.2m for local authority run ferries, an increase of £7.7m on last year. This ensures that local authorities are fully funded to run their internal ferry services.

Maree Todd said:

“The additional £7.7m in funding for inter-island ferries is a positive development and delivers on a key ask from local authority partners at a time of unprecedented financial pressure on the Scottish budget.

“Whilst it is the local authority that is wholly responsible for the ferry services they provide, the SNP Government is sympathetic to the financial pressures which fall on individual local authorities, which we know have been heightened as a result of Covid-19.

“I’d like to give a mention to Cllr Robbie McGregor and his colleagues in Shetland who have made the positive case for additional funding to support inter-island ferries in recent months.

“It’s worth pointing out that for a long time, local authorities received no funding from the Scottish Government to support inter-island ferries, it is only under the SNP that this has changed and increased over the years. Today, we have a pledge to meet the revenue ask in full, fulfilling the SNP government’s commitment to fair ferry funding.

“Considering the draft Budget meets a key ask from the Liberal Democrats, I hope to see the party get behind the budget and support it through Parliament.”

Orkney constituency MSP Liam McArthur had a mixed response to the news acknowledging that the increased ferry funding was welcome, he added:

“Having been promised ‘fair funding’ by the First Minister since the last election, it’s remarkable how the prospect of an upcoming election concentrates the minds of SNP Ministers.

“Welcome too is the proposal to fund RET on internal ferry services. Some of these are amongst the most expensive routes mile-for-mile anywhere in the country.

“Given we are still waiting for RET on Pentland Firth routes three years after it was due to be introduced and twelve years after it was introduced on west coast routes, it may be premature to celebrate just yet. 

“Of course, this will not stop SNP politicians from being first in the queue to pat themselves on the back.  Let’s not forget, however, that Orkney has consistently been short-changed on ferry funding over the course of this parliament since the promises made at the last election.

“There is a strong argument for the millions in under-funding now to be repaid. Indeed, it is a case SNP Ministers themselves have been making to the UK Government over VAT payments for Police Scotland. If it’s good enough for police funding, it’s good enough for ferry funding.”

Orkney SNP candidate for the Scottish Parliament elections Robert Leslie said that the additional funding was brilliant news for the islands.

He said:

“This delivers on the fairer ferry funding calls that have been made by Lib Dems and the local authority and shows that the SNP government is in full listening mode when it comes to island issues.

“I look forward to these enhanced services and reduced fares being put in place. The next step will be to engage further with the local authority and other parties on the replacement of Orkney’s ancient internal ferry fleet.”

The Draft Budget also includes many other features which will be of support to Orkney : continuation of the Air Discount Scheme, investment in digital infrastructure, and a focus on the Islands Plan. The Orkney News will cover these and other elements of the draft budget in future reports.

This is a Draft Budget. What happens next is that opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament can negotiate changes to it if they wish to see amendments made. This is part of the normal process of the workings of the parliament. At the end of the process they can either vote for or against the Budget.

The Draft Scottish Budget has been announced before it is known what the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer will have in his proposals. This may affect some of the plans put forward by Kate Forbes.

Commenting on that Maree Todd MSP said:

“It is unfortunate that the Scottish Government has yet again been forced into setting a budget based on such little information from the UK government. Now more than ever, the devolved administrations and local authorities need clarity to appropriately plan for an economic recovery from Covid-19.

“Despite the uncertainty, the draft Budget includes a range of new initiatives to drive economic growth, create jobs and tackle inequalities as well as support businesses, public services and families.”

Presenting her Draft Budget Kate Forbes said:

“This budget is being delivered in exceptional circumstances as we continue to battle a pandemic that has shaken our society and economy to the core, and as we face the harmful impacts of Brexit.

“It promotes innovation and reform, new beginnings, new directions. And while it continues to target support in the immediate term, it also tracks a course over the next year to build a fairer, stronger and greener country.

“Throughout these dark times we have never given up hope. This budget seeks to build on that hope and, by focusing on how we rebuild and renew our country, make the light at the end of the tunnel shine that bit brighter.”

Shapinsay Ferry credit K Armet

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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