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Orkney and Shetland Economies (Support)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 13th December 2017.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

8. I offer my apologies for my slightly late arrival for portfolio question time.

To ask the Scottish Government what immediate action it is taking to support the economies of Orkney and Shetland. (S5O-01601)

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

The Government is committed to promoting economic growth across all our communities, including those in Orkney and Shetland. Our substantial investment in infrastructure, regeneration and business support helps to deliver inclusive growth and economic resilience, creating and retaining jobs in communities across the northern isles. For example, the 2016 Scottish National Party manifesto contained a commitment to take action to reduce fares on ferry services to Orkney and Shetland. The Government is delivering on that commitment, and that is our priority.

On 22 August 2017, the Minister for Transport and the Islands announced our intention to introduce reduced passenger and car ferry fares on services from the mainland to Orkney and Shetland in the first half of 2018. The fares options identified are, in line with the Clyde and Hebrides ferry network, to offer road equivalent tariff on the Pentland Firth routes and a variant of RET on the longer Aberdeen to Kirkwall and Lerwick routes. The average reduction in fares across the northern isles will be more than 30 per cent for cars and 40 per cent for passengers.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I thank the cabinet secretary for his answer, and I certainly acknowledge and welcome the decision, albeit belated, on cheaper ferry fares on the external routes.

However, as a former Minister for Transport and Veterans, the cabinet secretary will be aware how crucial to the local economies in Orkney and Shetland are our internal ferries, which are a lifeline to the smaller islands in both constituencies. When will the Scottish Government honour the commitment that it made in 2014 to provide fair funding for those lifeline services?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

As the member mentions, we made that commitment as long ago as when I was transport minister, and directly to the councils involved. T he present Minister for Transport and the Islands has carried that through in the discussions that he and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution have had with the relevant local authorities. It is right that those discussions are allowed to take place. The particular needs of the islands as regards internal ferry services are matters that have, quite rightly, been the preserve of those islands’ authorities. The extent to which the member would like to see further support from the Scottish Government is rightly a matter for discussion between the parties involved. It may be that further progress can be made on that, depending on how the budget discussions go. It will be for the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution to talk about in his budget proposals and for the Opposition parties to play their part, by making their own suggestions and seeing where they can support the Scottish Government‘s budget.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

Given the

Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution’s protestations during and since last week’s debate on fair ferry funding for Orkney and Shetland’s internal ferries, will the cabinet secretary confirm that it is still normal protocol for the Scottish Government to put its own commitments into its own budget, rather than relying on Opposition parties to do so on its behalf?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I know that the member was not here at the start of the parliamentary session, but this is a minority Government and a Parliament of minorities and, in that context—just as at Westminster—people have to have discussions and sometimes even make compromises. That is why it is important that Opposition parties play their full part in the budget process. The implication in the member’s question is that his party wants to play no part in the Parliament’s budget process. That is its entitlement, but I think that it will lose out, as will its local electors, if it does not take part in the process.