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Orkney Ferries make funding plea after ‘unsustainable’ drop in income

A direct appeal for funding for Orkney’s internal ferry services has been made to the Scottish Government.

The COVID-19 pandemic poses an existential threat to Orkney Ferries who are battling an “unsustainable” income shortfall.

That is the message from the board of Orkney Ferries who have made a direct appeal to the Scottish Government for a funding lifeline.

Board chairman, Councillor David Dawson says the company is losing £600,000 of income every quarter — a situation which “seriously endangers the company’s future”.

In an open letter to the Scottish Government, sent to Michael Matheson, cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity, Councillor Dawson says these lifeline services to Orkney’s North and South Isles are in jeopardy.

Councillor Dawson said: “The COVID-19 crisis has had a damaging and very likely long-term impact on Orkney Ferries. We urgently need support from the government for a service that is literally a lifeline for our most vulnerable and remote communities.

“The need for social distancing — while essential — has massively reduced the number of passengers we can carry — and this has had a major impact on the company’s income over the last four months.

“This income is a vital part of Orkney Ferries’ funding. But despite this, we have continued to operate fully-manned vessels carrying food, medicine, fuel and many other vital supplies our isles communities depend upon.”

Councillor Dawson said an appeal for support has already been made and initially turned down by the government.

But he says the board are “shocked” and “appalled” that in addition to supporting other Scottish ferry companies, £9 million in emergency Scottish Government funding has been handed out to Glasgow Subway and Edinburgh Trams.

Orkney Islands Council has long argued that the service should be fully funded by the Scottish Government, in line with similar lifeline ferry operations elsewhere in Scotland.

Councillor Dawson added: “That sends a message that the Government considers the wellbeing of people in the Central Belt to be more important than that of folk in Orkney’s North and South Isles.

“We are simply asking for parity in the way the company is treated — and that emergency funding is provided, enabling us to continue our support for the many communities that depend on our inter-island ferry service.”