The leader of Orkney Islands Council has written to the First Minister voicing “frustration and disappointment” over ferry funding.
Councillor James Stockan accused the Scottish Government of “blatant discrimination” in an open letter to Nicola Sturgeon yesterday, claiming the Orkney inter-island ferry service is underfunded compared to Scotland’s other services. The council was able to lobby for an extra £5.5 million in funding for the service in the 2018-19 financial year after what Mr Stockan described in his letter as a “lengthy battle”.
A further £5.3m was pledged during this financial year but Mr Stockan’s letter branded the payment “insufficient”.
The Scottish Government pledged in 2014 to ensure funding for ferry services should not “place a disproportionate financial burden” on local authorities, something Mr Stockan claims is happening to Orkney Islands Council.
In his letter, Mr Stockan said: “Orkney needs a long-term commitment from ministers to provide full and fair funding.
“Unless this changes, Orkney will be left with the oldest fleet and highest fares in the country.
“The Government’s repeated failure to fully fund Orkney’s inter-island ferries has left remote and vulnerable communities with an inferior service compared to other areas of Scotland.
“This is blatant discrimination; there is no justification for treating Orkney less favourably than other communities who depend on lifeline ferry services.”
The council leader, who sits as an independent, claimed the National Ferries Plan – published in 2012 by the Scottish Government – “laid bare the extent” of the issues with Orkney’s ferry system and added a call for the replacement of the ageing fleet.
Mr Stockan said cost, frequency and accessibility were all becoming problems for the fleet, adding: “Ferry replacement is now urgent, with an increasing frequency of age-related breakdowns and ever higher maintenance costs.”
The letter also said investment in the Orkney fleet and route would present an opportunity for the Scottish Government and the local authority to tackle emissions from the older vessels.