I met Orkney Islands Council in Kirkwall last month and I heard about its plans to introduce low-emissions ferries. I welcomed those plans but I made it clear that, as Mr McArthur knows, the responsibility for the interisland ferry services, including the procurement of replacement vessels, sits with the local authority. We do, however, recognise the pressures that that brings, which is why the Scottish Government’s 2021-22 budget includes £19.2 million for local authorities operating ferries, which is an increase of £7.7 million on last year.
As the cabinet secretary will know from his recent visit, Orkney’s internal ferry service relies on ageing vessels. They are costly to run, damaging to the environment and no longer fit for purpose. The service already falls below the minimum standards set in the Government’s ferries plan. What people in Orkney want to know is how and when new ferries will be delivered, so will the cabinet secretary clarify how the welcome commitment in the programme for government to carbon-neutral islands by 2040 and low-emissions ferries by 2032—
I appreciate the promotion. We have a record of assisting our island authorities, where possible, with issues such as this. The member will remember that in 2019 we helped to fund the replacement of the MV Golden Mariana.
As he knows, the responsibility for the replacement of vessels lies with Orkney Islands Council.
I recognise, however, that, like us, the council faces budgetary pressures and that we have a shared decarbonisation agenda. I am therefore willing to explore what we could do to assist the council in the form of removal or, at least, substantial reduction of the design fee costs by virtue of creating and making available to the council a small number of standardised designs. We have had initial conversations with Orkney Islands Council in that regard.
With the greatest respect,
Mr Simpson is clearly not paying attention. A ferry plan for the Government-responsibility ferries is in place, which involves, for example, the replacement of freight vessels on the northern isles route as well as ferries in the western part of the country. If he has not spotted that, I will write to him with the detail.