Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur, has pressed the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney for an assurance that the government’s ferries taskforce with Orkney Islands Council will deliver a funding package that leads to the procurement of new and long overdue ferries for Orkney’s internal services.
Speaking at General Questions, Mr McArthur welcomed the first meeting of the ferries taskforce on Tuesday but warned that it is “vital” that Ministers remain personally involved in this process to ensure a fleet renewal programme is achieved as part of next year’s Scottish Budget.
Orkney’s MSP went on to reiterate the urgency of the situation by highlighting the “impact of increasing disruption to services” on island communities as well as the spiralling costs and emissions due to the age of the current ferry fleet.
In response, John Swinney said he recognised the significance of the issues involved for reliability of the lifeline services which he said will be addressed by the work of the taskforce.
Following Tuesday’s inaugural meeting, OIC and Scottish Government officials have started to develop proposals for a funding package that will support a ferry replacement programme.
A further meeting with Ministers and the Council leadership has been scheduled for April.
Commenting afterwards, Mr 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.”