The Scottish Government has been urged to help a lifeline ferry service between Orkney and mainland Scotland which is being hit by a loss of passenger income.
Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston has called on Transport Secretary Michael Matheson to provide financial support to Pentland Ferries, a family-owned company which operates passenger and freight services between Orkney and Caithness.
The Conservative MSP wrote to Mr Matheson, asking him to personally contact the company's management team to discuss the financial pressures on their operations and the challenges the company faces, describing Pentland Ferries as an important part of Orkney’s transport infrastructure.
Mr Halcro Johnston said: “Pentland Ferries provides a vital local service - without any public subsidy – and are an important local employer, both in Orkney and in Caithness.
“While they are providing ambulance transfer provision on the route on a temporary contract with Transport Scotland, this appears to only cover their additional staffing costs and does not make up for a collapse in passenger numbers and income.
“Despite the Transport Secretary assuring me in the Scottish Parliament that he was aware of the challenges Pentland Ferries faced, and that they were being provided with support, nothing substantial has been forthcoming.
“I understand from the company that, while they contacted the Transport Secretary directly, engagement was with officials at Transport Scotland. It is therefore important that Mr Matheson engages personally with the management team at Pentland Ferries going forward and hears first-hand the challenges they face.
“Given the importance of their service as a gateway for visitors to Orkney, as well as one which provides vital freight links with the Scottish mainland, it is essential they are supported through this current emergency and an important part of our islands’ transport infrastructure is protected”.
Mr Halcro Johnston has also written to the Chief Executive of Orkney Islands Council asking the authority whether they would reconsider supporting Pentland Ferries should national funding not be made available to the company, and also whether help could be provided in relation to harbour dues being incurred by the MV Pentalina, the sale of which has been delayed by the pandemic.
In the letter, Mr Halcro Johnston said he recognised the local authority faced financial pressures of their own because of Covid-19, but said it was important local businesses were supported through the current crisis to allow them to play a crucial role in helping the Orkney economy recover and rebuild.