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No—the minister will have time to respond later. The i nternal ferry services in Orkney are already well below the minimum standard that was set out in the Government’s national ferries plan, in terms of cost, frequency and accessibility. Across a range of measures, the north and south isles in Orkney are getting a raw deal in the quality of the internal ferry services on which they depend.
Most of the vessels are desperately in need of replacement. The minister knows that and it is a message that I have been reinforcing with him and his predecessors for some time, as have successive administrations of Orkney Island Council. I have lost track of how many Scottish transport appraisal guidance appraisals have been carried out since I was first elected. Each appraisal serves only to highlight the increasingly urgent need for new vessels, yet still there is no plan in place or agreement from the Government to help to meet the cost of vessels that are crucial to the future viability of some of our most fragile island communities.
That is despite bold promises that were made by the former transport and islands minister during the passage of the Islands (Scotland) Bill last year. At the time, Mr Yousaf told us to await publication of the national islands plan to see the detail of the Government’s commitment on lifeline ferry services. When the draft plan was finally published last month, however, there was little to offer reassurance to people and businesses in Orkney. There was no sign that ministers were preparing to deliver on those promises, and no recognition of the responsibility to help to deliver a level of service that is in line with the standards that are set out in the Government’s ferries plan.
That is simply not good enough. It is a failure that leaves island communities in Orkney less resilient and more vulnerable, puts island businesses at a competitive disadvantage at a time when they are already dealing with plenty of uncertainty, and forces crew members to do their best with resources that are no longer fit for purpose. It is little wonder that the leader of Orkney Islands Council described the islands plan as “very disappointing” and “a missed opportunity” and as being “without any real substance”.
The Scottish Government needs to face up to its responsibilities in relation to the replacement of Orkney’s internal ferry fleet. The Government needs to stop short-changing Orkney and must help to ensure that the level of service at least meets the minimum standards that are set out in its ferries plan. It needs to stop lodging amendments that gloss over concerns and paint a picture that everything is rosy when it comes to Scotland’s ferry network. Scottish Liberal Democrats will support the motion at decision time.