The provision of lifeline ferry services is the statutory responsibility of Transport Scotland. These small, local services were likely to have been operated by Strathclyde Regional Council and were taken over by Argyll and Bute Council when the single tier authorities came into being.
The four ferries currently operated by the council are:
Easdale – Seil;
Lismore – Port Appin;
Luing – Seil; and
Jura – Islay.
The council receives some funding, through grant aided expenditure (GAE), for ferry services but there is a shortfall of around £1m once passenger fares have been taken into account.
In 2018-19, Orkney and Shetland received £10.5 million of support from the Scottish Government for operating island ferry services and a similar amount has been made available for 2019-20. Argyll and Bute has not received a similar payment to date, despite being home to 23 inhabited islands.
Discussion with Transport Scotland over the operation of these services has been ongoing since 2013.
In 2017, the council submitted a six-stage assessment process to meet Transport Scotland requirements for ferry transfer. While waiting for a response, council officers have written to Transport Scotland to ask it to consider the ferry services in conjunction with the winter timetable for Mull and discussions around the work required for the island’s Craignure Pier.
Councillor Roddy McCuish, Policy Lead for Roads and Amenity Services, said: “We are not asking for anything other than fair and equal treatment.
“There is no doubt, our island communities need these lifeline services and we will continue to provide them as we continue to make our case. The reality is however, Argyll and Bute is one of the three local authorities in Scotland to see the largest reductions in funding allocations since 2013/14. Subsiding these lifeline ferries puts increasing pressure on other essential services.
“We therefore look forward to continue what I hope will be productive talks with Transport Scotland to provide the best possible future for our island communities and our economy.”