Shetland ferry staff face job losses
THE number of staff employed on Shetland’s lifeline ferry services to the outlying isles is set to be cut by 25 posts as part of a major review of services designed to combat the council’s growing financial crisis.
• Staff face job losses as council tries to stem financial crisis
• Revised savings package expected to save £3.1 million
But a report to go before island councillors next week has drawn back from the scale of the draconian cuts first proposed when the ferry services review went out to public consultation last summer.
The revised savings package is expected to save the council a total of £3.1 million over the next four years
Proposals to axe one of the two ferries on the Yell Sound route, which currently costs the islands council £3.7 million a year alone, have been shelved,. Instead the council is proposing to operate the route with one vessel operating 18 hours day seven days a week and a second ferry operating 12 hours a day from Monday to Friday.
The proposed changes will also result in the reintroduction of fares and an end to the free ferry service on the Bluemull Sound run which links Unst and Fetlar with Yell. The operating hours of one of the two vessels on the run will also be cut to an average of 40 hours week, compared to 42 in winter and 66 in summer under the present timetable.
Council officials are also recommending reducing the sailings on the Whalsay run by one return sailing on weekdays and one on Sundays. Under the proposals the number of sailing to Bressay will be reduced by around 15 a week by removing underutilised runs. The main ferry will be operated with a crew of four instead of five and the maximum number of passengers to be carried will be reduced to 50.
The Fair Isle service will continue with a Monday sailing being scrapped throughout the year, and the Saturday afternoon sailing will be axed in winter on the ro-ro service to Papa Stour.
One of the most significant service changes will affect sailings to the Skerries. Council officials are proposing to base the Skerries ferry “Filla” in Skerries instead of at Symbister on Whalsay, removing the need for positioning runs.
But the report admits that such a move will present a “major potential risk.” The report continues: “The existing pier infrastructure is not suitable for all weather overnight berthing, when the vessel would be left unmanned. Contingency plans can be implemented to send the vessel to a safe haven when adverse weather is forecast but there may be occasions when conditions are worse than forecast. This would lead to the risk of damage to the vessel or pier structure.
“There is a risk that the existing crew who are familiar with the vessel, the route and the Shetland Islands Council Safety Management System and procedures will not be prepared to relocate. The entrance to Skerries is narrow and space limited within the harbour for a vessel of Filla’s size. If the existing crew are no longer available, new crew will need to be recruited who are willing to live in Skerries at least two weeks out of three. These crew will not initially be familiar with the operation and there may be difficulties in supervising newly recruited crew in a remote location
“There is a risk that, if a serious breach of procedures were to occur, that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency could suspend the Ferry Services Document of Compliance which would prevent the entire Shetland Islands Council fleet (with one exception) from operating. These risks will be mitigated by only recruiting competent crew, regular and frequent superintendent visits to the vessel, CCTV and lengthy induction and familiarisation processes.”
Philip Crossland, the council’s director of infrastructure services, states: “The package contains those options that have the lowest impact on economic activities and employment opportunities in the affected communities. It also contains those options designed or modified in response to community and stakeholder feedback, which tended to prioritise economic activity over all other considerations.”
He continues: “The package emphasises retaining people’s ability to travel, as it does not recommend a course of action that involves removing or moving vessels, and preserves a two vessel operation on the major routes. For example, the Fetlar and Unst communities felt strongly that retaining the two vessel service on Bluemull Sound was an important factor in the sustainability of life in the North Isles, due to the need to travel to Yell to access services. Furthermore, the ro-ro service to Papa Stour is also seen as key in facilitating the movement of people for crofting, social purposes and to access services – this is also retained.
“In effect it is the best package that will deliver the overarching objective of a sustainable inter-island ferry service that can be delivered within an environment of reducing resources.”
The scale of the financial crisis facing the council is also spelled out in a separate report to the meeting of the full council.
It states: “ Current spending is drawing in the region of £60,000 per day from reserves to maintain the levels of service that have been provided for many years in Shetland. This cannot continue, and the council is committed to ensuring that its budgets are brought to a sustainable position.”
The council is aiming to reduce its expenditure by around £36 million a year over the next five years. And the report continues: “Even with this plan, there will be a draw of over £100 million from reserves over the next five years. This will leave £125 million for future generations.
“The £125 million left in reserves is expected to generate around £7 million a year in income to spend on essential services within Shetland. If a balanced budget is not achieved, these reserves and this income would be lost forever, and reductions in services would inevitably be more severe. Failure would result in even more severe reductions in services, as well as legal consequences for the council for failing to set budgets that it can live within.”
A spokeswoman for the islands authority said council leaders would be making no comment on the proposals in advance of the meeting of the full council in Lerwick on 4 February.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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