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Working Together to Address Ferries Issues

The first Ferry Taskforce has been convened by the Scottish Government. It was a pledge by the Scottish Government to meet by the end of January which they did on 31st. At the meeting was Orkney’s new Chief Executive Oliver Reid, Leader of OIC James Stockan, Deputy Leader Heather Woodbridge and Corporate Director of Enterprise and sustainable Regeneration, Gareth Waterson. For the Scottish Government there was Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth as well as Scottish Government officials.

 Orkney’s aging inter islands ferry fleet is run by Orkney Ferries, a company owned by Orkney Islands Council. The council receives money from the Scottish Government to subsidise the running of the ferries and in 2020 to purchase The Nordic Sea.

Recently a committee of the Scottish Parliament visited Orkney and held various meetings before publishing its report which covers the inter islands ferries and those run by Northlink, Pentland Ferries and John O’Groat Ferries. You can read about that here :

The Ferries Task Force Meeting has been hailed as a positive way forward by Orkney with more meetings to be convened.

OIC Deputy Leader Heather Woodbridge said:

“ The meeting of the taskforce presented us with an ideal opportunity to really push this issue forward.

“With both the Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth there at the meeting – both of whom are well aware of our challenges and our asks – we weren’t starting from square one and they showed a real willingness to work with us on the issue. Personally, being in attendance at the meeting was ideal as I was able to give the perspective of someone who lives in our North Isles and explain my first-hand experience of the limitations of the current service, something that is vital as we move this forward.

“Over the next few months officers from the Council and from the Scottish Government will be working closely together to develop proposals. We’ll then meet with Mr Swinney and Ms Gilruth again in April to plot the course towards a funding package, as well the technical aspects of the replacement.”.

“Overall, their previous hardline position has without a doubt softened and the view is that this was one of the most constructive meetings to date. We’ve lit a fire under the issue – and look forward to some real progress.”

The issue was also raised in the Scottish Parliament by Orkney Constituency MSP LibDem, Liam McArthur. The MSP had originally doubted that Deputy FM John Swinney would honour his pledge to convene the Ferries Task Force.

Liam McArthur said:

“After some concern about whether the DFM would honour his commitment to convene the first meeting of the ferries taskforce last month, I welcome the fact that this process has now been kick started. For it to have any chance of success, however, the Deputy First Minister and the Transport Minister need to remain directly and actively involved.

“It is helpful, therefore, that Mr Swinney has committed to a further meeting with the OIC leadership in April. This puts the onus on government and council officials to make quick progress in developing proposals to be considered at that meeting.

“Ultimately, the stakes could not be higher as the ageing ferry fleet continues to struggle to meet the needs of island communities across Orkney. Not only does the increased disruption caused by breakdowns and planned maintenance impact on the day-to-day lives for islanders but these ferries are taking an ever greater financial and environmental toll.

“As I made clear to the DFM, while the task force represents a step in the right direction, this process must now lead to a proper funding package. Orkney’s island communities have waited long enough for the ferries they need and deserve.”

Deputy First Minister, John Swinney has described the first Ferries Task Force meeting as ‘useful’. Speaking in the Scottish Parliament John Swinney said:

“We discussed a range of matters about how best to support the Council with the challenges that it faces in delivering its ferry responsibilities, and we look forward to continuing discussions.

“I recognise the significance of the issues that are involved and the necessity of there being reliable interisland ferries and connections for his (Liam McArthur’s) constituents. We have embarked on the work that is necessary to explore those issues, and we look forward to sustaining that work with Orkney Islands Council.”

Houton Ferry Terminal Image credit Bell

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