The operator of a ferry service that brings essentials like food and medicine to Orkney communities says it faces bankruptcy unless the Scottish Government urgently intervenes.
The chairman of Orkney Ferries, David Dawson, says he is “shocked and appalled” that Holyrood has directly supported transport operations like Edinburgh’s tram system and Glasgow’s underground while rejecting such pleas from his firm.
Mr Dawson said the company has continued to deliver vital supplies to island communities despite losing hundreds of thousands of pounds during lockdown.
He claimed a previous appeal was turned down by the government, while other ferry operators, including Northlink and CalMac, were given direct support.
He said: “We were shocked and appalled to discover that in addition to supporting other Scottish ferry companies, the government is providing up to £9m in emergency funding for Glasgow subway and Edinburgh trams.
“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.”
The company, which is losing £600,000 a quarter, is now seeking emergency Scottish Government funding to help it survive.
Orkney Ferries is owned by Orkney Islands Council which has argued that the service should be fully funded by the Scottish Government.
It has sent an open letter to Michael Matheson, cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity, appealing for financial support.
Mr 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.
“Orkney Ferries is losing £600,000 in income every quarter. This is unsustainable and seriously endangers the company’s future.
“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.”
Transport Scotland said additional funding of £11.5m for local authority ferry services has been allocated within the 2020/21 budget in a challenging financial context, bringing support over the past three years to £32.5m.
Orkney Islands Council has also received £750,000 towards the cost of replacing an Orkney Ferries vessel.
A spokesman said: “Local authorities are wholly responsible for their own internal ferry services, but we understand the significant financial challenges they can face.
“Internal ferries funding pressures as a result of Covid-19 should be considered as part of a wider ask from local authorities on Covid-19 related cost impacts.”