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‘Robust Business Case Essential’ for Future Inter-Island Ferries

The Scottish Government and Orkney Islands Council will be required to work together to produce a business case to fund replacement ferries for the islands. The UK Government will also have to be involved. The planning will have to include any changes to infrastructure that may also be involved.

two inter island ferries and a masted sailing ship lined up in Kirkwall harbour on a very still day

Funding will be made available by the Scottish Government for putting together the business case which will have to be ‘robust’ due to the considerable amount of money involved and ensuring the tax payer gets the best value for money in the procurement process.

Working into the Business Case will have to be decisions already taken by OIC . 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 £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.

 The agreement in principal between OIC and the Scottish Government was announced at the Ferries Taskforce which met in Edinburgh on Tuesday 9th of November and was chaired by Deputy First Minister of Scotland, Shona Robison. She said:

profile picture of Shona Robison

“I would like to thank Orkney Islands Council for its constructive engagement through the Task Force process.

“We have agreed in principle to fund the further development of the business case as part of the budgetary process and will confirm that funding in due course.

“The Scottish Government remains committed to the Orkney Ferry Replacement Task Force, and all members agreed to explore future engagement with the UK Government.”

Leader of Orkney Islands Council James Stockan said:

“We are delighted with the progress that we have made today at the Ferries Taskforce meeting.

Commenting on the agreement Leader of OIC, Councillor James Stockan said:

“Working on that business case together will put us on the same page in terms of what the final desired outcome should be. It allows us to truly question and scrutinise the existing estimated figures for a like for like replacement in a meaningful way.

“It is my belief that the funding package announced by the Scottish Government today is an indication that they are truly committed to supporting us throughout this process – and I am expecting that commitment will continue as we move to full replacement of the ferry fleet.”

Orkney Constituency MSP, LibDem Liam McArthur has welcomed the funding agreement, however, he felt that the process should have been much further forward. He said:

“Making an approach to the UK Government is certainly sensible, but Orkney’s urgent need for new ferries cannot be turned into yet another constitutional fight. Our island communities that rely on these lifeline routes need, expect and deserve better than that.”

The meeting of the Ferries Taskforce took place on the same day as the Scottish Parliament was discussing the report from the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, on “A Modern and Sustainable Ferry Service for Scotland”.

The committee has produced a very comprehensive report with 74 recommendations, some of which the Scottish Government will be taking forward. During its investigations the committee toured Scotland including a visit to Orkney.

Stromness harbour with the norhtlink ferry and a variety of small fishing boats

The report looked at the ferries provided across the whole of Scotland. Opening the debate Convener of the committee Edward Mountain MSP said:

“Let us be clear: too many of Scotland’s ferry services are below standard. “

Many of the contributions by MSPs dwelt on the past or current situation, however, the focus of the report is to move forward ” to progress improvement of the management of our ferries and the contracts for running them, ” explained Edward Mountain.

” The Scottish Government needs to listen carefully to what the committee has said, and it needs to implement the recommendations of the plan, be decisive and make clear decisions, because allowing the status quo to continue is unacceptable to the people of Scotland and to the committee.”

Responding to MSP questions and concluding her part in the discussion Fiona Hyslop, the Minister for Transport in the Scottish Government said:

“I record my thanks to the committee for its work in preparing this forward-thinking and positive report. People will read it in different ways, but I think that it gives a direction and a way forward. I assure members that the Government will continue to work through the recommendations and, along with communities and key ferry stakeholders, seek to improve the ferry services that we deliver. I will continue to work constructively on the issue and other transport issues with the committee, and I again thank it for producing an evidence-based, well-considered and timely report that I think shows the Parliament and its committee structure at their best.”

Click on this link to read about the work of the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee – A modern and sustainable ferry service for Scotland

  • Set out its comprehensive vision for a high quality service for all ferry-dependent communities in the Islands Connectivity Plan;
  • Establish the governance and delivery structures capable of delivering this vision; and
  • Provide sufficient resources and the systems required to make the vision a reality.
The Varagen Ferry
Image credit: Mike Robertson

Fiona Grahame

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