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Halcro Johnston: cabinet secretary has no answers on inter-island ferries

Scottish Conservative list MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Jamie Halcro Johnston

With concerns still present over the future of the inter-island ferries in the Northern Isles, no answers are being given on the Scottish Government’s commitment to fair ferry funding, according to regional MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Jamie Halcro Johnston.

According to Mr Halcro Johnston the cabinet secretary for rural economy and connectivity, Fergus Ewing, had no answers to the questions the conservative MSP put to him in Scottish Parliament, yesterday, Thursday.

During an exchange, Mr Halcro Johnston pointed to warnings from Orkney Islands Council’s development and infrastructure committee chairman and north isles councillor, Graham Sinclair, that without action, inter-islands ferries could return to 1960s levels of service.

The SNP Government has previously committed to “fair funding” for inter-island ferries in Orkney and Shetland. At present, inter-island services in Argyll and the Western Isles receive full public funding with no contribution from local authorities. In Orkney and Shetland, a grant is given to councils, who are expected to make up the multi-million-pound shortfall.

Island leaders are due to meet with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Derek Mackay on 16 November to discuss this issue ahead of December’s Scottish Government budget.

Speaking following yesterday’s session, Mr Halcro Johnston said: “It looks increasingly like Mr Ewing’s commitment to fair ferry funding has been sunk.

“He evaded answering the question I asked, making no mention of inter-island ferries when he had the opportunity to reassure local people that the Scottish Government would not let the service offered slide backwards.

“Before the last election, the SNP made a key pledge to Orkney and Shetland that a fair funding arrangement would be made. Now, several years down the line, we are still no clearer on whether the Scottish Government will take any action at all.”

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