Editorial: Ferries & Future Funding, What Lies Ahead

This week Orkney Islands Council welcomed the news that two electric passenger hydrofoil ferries will be coming to the islands in 2024 and 2025 respectively.

In a partnership agreement between Orkney Islands Council, Artemis Technologies and EMEC onshore charging infrastructure will be installed.

The Artemis EF 24 Passenger a commercially viable green transport solution for operators cities and governments across the world

The £15m funding award comes from the UK Government’s £80m Zero Emission Vessel and Infrastructure fund (ZEVI) and was announced at London International Shipping Week.

Transport Secretary in the UK Government Mark Harper said:

“Today’s winners are at the cutting edge of the nation’s maritime industry – a crucial part of this Government’s plan to grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunity right across the UK.”

Once the pilot experiment is finished ownership of the hydrofoils will remain with Orkney Ferries. Future council budgets will have to factor in the ongoing expense of maintenance of the vessels, the onshore infrastructure and the training of crew. Island communities being served by the ferries will need to be consulted on how these will fit into the existing services provided by Orkney Ferries and how they integrate into onward travel arrangements – linking up with bus services, other ferry operators and medical appointments. This will be one to watch after the additional expenses being experienced with the purchase of the Nordic Sea.

Retirement from service of The Golden Mariana has been announced – we’ve been here before.

The busy harbour at Stromness with the Northlink ferry and several small fishing boats
The Golden Mariana with the Northlink Ferry in the background Image credit Mirran Hall

Leader of OIC, Councillor James Stockan was quick to assure islanders that “this latest development must not be confused with our drive to secure funding for replacement ferries.”

There’s been a mixed response to the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government announced last week. There are national initiatives and pledges which will, of course, affect Orkney – like the increase in wages for social care staff and the initiatives to reduce child poverty, but what is in the programme specifically for islands? The Programme for Government sets out the actions for the coming year and beyond – and the budgeting of them.

The Key commitments include: 

  • expanding access to funded childcare
  • paying social care workers in a direct care role and frontline staff providing funded early learning and childcare in the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) sector, at least £12 an hour from April 
  • speeding up renewable energy projects with a new deal for the onshore wind industry
  • delivering a new £15 million support package to unleash entrepreneurial talent 
  • expanding free school meals in primary schools

Agriculture, land reform, the rural economy and the islands

  • Pay Scottish farmers and crofters £550 million, with payments beginning in September, including a fresh round of Agri-Environment Climate Scheme funding, to support actions to tackle climate change, cut emissions, and restore nature.
  • Introduce a Land Reform Bill, including measures to modernise agricultural holdings.
  • Create a new rural support framework through the Agriculture Bill and continue to work with stakeholders to develop key elements of that framework, including the whole farm plan, a new approach to advice and support, and enhanced conditional support measures.
  • Continue the Agricultural Reform Programme to produce more of our food sustainably, cut carbon emissions and farm with nature, by increasing the uptake of carbon audits, soil testing and biodiversity audits, and funding to improve animal health.
  • Develop and consult on proposals to reform crofting law, create new opportunities for new entrants, encourage the active management and use of crofts and common grazings, and support rural population retention through action on non-residency.
  • Develop a gender strategy for agriculture and fund practical training opportunities for women, new entrants, and young farmers.
  • Develop our approach to future farming activity through engagement with key stakeholders to identify potential opportunities to increase sustainable production and markets for poultry and eggs, venison, and seed potatoes, and with young farmers to start work to design support options for new entrants.
  • Support action to address emerging climate issues for land use, with roundtables on water scarcity and on decarbonising rural machinery and equipment.
  • Host an international food summit and support the promotion of Scotland’s food and drink at home and to wider UK and international markets and audiences.
  • Lay out the actions we are taking to extend the learning and good practice from the Carbon Neutral Islands Project to other islands across Scotland, and review and, if necessary, update the National Islands Plan.
  • Consult on phasing out cages for gamebirds and laying hens, and publish our response to the consultation on extending the framework for licensing activities involving animals.


  • Pilot a new aquaculture consenting process in two local authority areas to help deliver a more streamlined regime across Scotland, and reduce the risk of escapes from fish farms with a new Technical Standard for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture, helping to realise our recently published Vision for Sustainable Aquaculture.
  • Award up to £14 million of grant funding through the Marine Fund Scotland to support projects to deliver improved social, environmental, and economic outcomes in line with our Blue Economy Vision.
  • Press the UK Government to honour its commitment to maintain long term funding for maritime and fisheries following Brexit, continuing to push it to take responsibility for the full costs of Brexit for our marine sectors, and to provide a fair and appropriate share of funding to Scotland, above and beyond the £14 million annually (to 2024‑25) currently provided for the Marine Fund Scotland.
  • Remain an international leader in sustainable fisheries management, protecting fish stocks and the marine environment, by developing new technical and management measures through our Future Catching Policy, by legislating to require Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) on board all pelagic and scallop dredge vessels fishing in Scottish waters, and by considering responses to our consultation on tracking and monitoring tools for inshore fishing vessels.
  • Engage fully in international fisheries negotiations to secure the best possible outcome for Scotland’s fishing industry.
  • Publish a Science and Innovation Strategy for Scotland’s Marine and Freshwater environments that sets out how science and innovation will contribute to the delivery of our Blue Economy ambition and commitments as well as emerging opportunities and challenges.

Orkney Constituency MSP Liam McArthur , LibDem has said that there is a “mismatch” between the promises made to islanders by successive SNP governments and the daily realities on the ground. He commented:

“The underfunding of Orkney Islands Council in relation to other island authorities means deeper cuts to services which are vital to many of the most vulnerable in our community.

“A continued failure to agree a way forward on the replacement of ferries operating on Orkney’s internal routes, puts these lifeline services at risk and the communities that rely upon them.

“And ongoing delays to the delivery of superfast broadband to every household has left Orkney with the poorest coverage and slowest speeds in the country. In turn, this affects access to services, education and business opportunities and undermines any aspiration the First Minister might have to equality.

“Successive Scottish Governments have made endless promises to our island communities. What islanders need is not more promises but a commitment from ministers to put in the hard work to deliver equality of opportunity.”

Emma Roddick, SNP Highlands and Islands MSP has welcomed the Scottish Government’s plans to boost support for islanders through a number of measures announced in the Programme.

She said:

Emma Roddick in Victoria Street Kirkwall

“I very much welcome the commitment shown by the Scottish Government to tackling poverty, supporting communities and ensuring high-quality public services for all.”

“We hear so often about folk having to leave Orkney due to a lack of affordable housing, so the Scottish Government’s intention to publish a plan of action to tackle housing in island, as well as rural areas, will be very welcome news. The Scottish Government has already made clear its commitment to boosting housing available, especially for key workers, and this new plan will help to retain folk in their communities as well as attract new people to them. By setting targets to build housing in rural and island communities, the Scottish Government is ensuring that the £752m it is investing this year will not simply go to increasing the sprawl of the central belt, but also to the places where a few homes make a huge difference.

“The cost-of-living crisis has hit family budgets hard and the Scottish Government is doing what it can to help. The commitment to funding an increase in childcare and expanding school meals will provide a much-needed boost of support for families across Orkney. By ensuring that, by the end of this parliament, all primary school children can access a free meal that meets the highest standards of nutrition, we can help tackle inequalities taking root at a young age and give bairns equal opportunity to succeed.

“Ferries are at the centre of island life, and the Scottish Government is committed to investing in services. We’ve already committed to freezing fares on the Northern Isles Network, and with the upcoming Fair Fares Review, we will see what further action can be taken to support those who use our ferries to ensure that they are affordable.  

“During the summer recess, I had the opportunity to meet with Aisling Philips to hear about the work she is doing in Hoy as part of the Carbon Neutral Islands scheme, I know how dedicated Aisling is to making Hoy carbon neutral, and I’m pleased to hear that the Scottish Government will take forward the learning and good practice from Hoy and the other pilot islands across Scotland to see what updates might be necessary to the Islands Plan.”

Labour Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant has focused her comments on the issue on Land Reform in the Programme for Government. She said:

 “Scotland requires radical unapologetic Land Reform however, this Programme for Government offers timid promises.

“To see the majority of Scottish Land be in the hands of a few rich Lairds is shameful. This land could be used to benefit the communities that use it and to better our environment and our planet.”

We’ll have to wait and see what hard cash commitments are in the Scottish Budget announced later on this year by Shona Robison. There are pay claims and awards for public service workers, increase payments to struggling families and those on benefits to mitigate UK Government austerity measures, and Scotland’s international obligations to do what it can to address the Climate Change Emergency. The continuing impact of the UK leaving the world’s largest free trade market: the loss of EU funding to our island communities; the Cost of Living crisis: trade barriers; and food insecurity. As we approach the anniversary of the first Scottish Independence Referendum held on 18th of September 2014, who would have expected things to have changed so much when 55% of the electorate in Scotland voted to continue to be part of the UK ?

Fiona Grahame

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