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Orkney’s ferry services raised in Scottish Parliament

Orkney’s ferry services, a hot topic in the Scottish Parliament.

Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur, used an opposition debate on Transport to repeat calls for the Scottish Government to help with procuring replacement vessels for Orkney’s internal ferry services.

Mr McArthur pressed the government to “face up to its responsibilities” in relation to improvements in Orkney’s internal fleet, following criticism that the recent National Islands Plan provided no detail of any commitments on this crucial issue.

Following the debate, Mr McArthur commented: “The government’s own National Ferries Plan in 2013 laid bare the extent to which Orkney’s internal ferry services fall short of minimum standards in terms of cost, frequency and accessibility.

“Since then, the situation has hardly improved. Indeed, given the age of the vessels operating these services, operating costs have gone up as reliability has gone down. The need to replace them with vessels that are fit for purpose is growing more urgent by the day.

“Sadly, we still have no timetable for when this will happen. During the passage of the Islands Act last year, Ministers promised that these issues would be addressed in the National Islands Plan. Yet the plan published last month contained nothing new and was dismissed by Orkney Islands Council as ‘very disappointing’ and ‘without any real substance’. This at the same time as Ministers were also backsliding on promises to ‘fair funding’ of the internal ferry service.

“The communities who rely on these lifeline services demand better, as do the crews asked to operate this ageing fleet. Given that it will take time to design, procure and deliver any new vessels, Ministers must now come forward with a timetable for bringing Orkney’s internal ferry fleet into the modern age.”

The debate on Scotland’s ferry services was brought forward by the Scottish Conservatives following issues across Scotland, with the Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston highlighting services to and within Orkney and Shetland.

Mr Halcro Johnston attacked the SNP’s record on ferries in the Northern Isles, and called for a long-term strategy for ferry services, as well as the SNP Government to meet its promises around fair funding of inter-island ferries.

Mr Johnston said: “The SNP has always been long on promises but short on delivery when it comes to our ferry services.

“From the fiasco over delivering reduced fares on the Northlink boats, to the refusal to properly fund internal ferries after pledging to do so as far back as 2012, it’s clear the SNP simply will not deliver for the islands.

“Our ferries are lifeline services that make living on our islands sustainable in the 21st century. Yet time and again, the current Scottish Government fails to treat them with the seriousness they deserve.

“When a new National Islands Plan was unveiled, it was said it would reset relations between central government and island communities. But it didn’t contain a single pledge to provide Orkney and Shetland islands councils with the fair funding promised to deliver inter-island services.

“Islanders won’t be fooled by an SNP government that doesn’t show any sign of taking local concerns seriously or on even meeting its own promises.”

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