NEARLY 100 cancellations on Shetland’s inter-ferry network last year have prompted calls for a permanent solution to be struck with the Scottish Government over funding, ahead of the Shetland by-election on August 29.

A total of 97 cancellations were recorded in 2018/19 attributed to breakdowns, technical issues or crew shortages. A need to deliver increased funding is high up in the demands of residents who rely on the network to get to from the outer islands to mainland Shetland, making this a hot topic in the upcoming by-election.

Shetland Islands Council has received extra funding from the Scottish Government in the last couple of years to put towards covering the cost of the internal ferries, but the money has fallen short of the full ask of £7.9m, with £5.2m delivered.

Ten candidates are standing in the by-election, including Scottish Green Party candidate Debra Nicolson, who has outlined why improving and protecting these routes are vital to island life: “Shetlanders deserve top quality services, with modern vessels serving these lifeline routes. The ferries need to be accessible for everyone, but sadly, that isn’t always the case at the moment.”

Ms Nicolson expressed her concern over the recently announced climate emergency and how this could feed in to future periods of adverse weather conditions, which would necessitate future proofing on the ferries and Shetland’s ports.

“These routes serve people’s daily commute, provide transport for goods and facilitate the important tourist trade which increasingly supports many jobs in Shetland. It’s time that proper investment was delivered, bringing benefits to all our communities,” she said.

Independent candidate Ryan Thomson has pointed to the ageing ferry fleet as a key reason why fixed links for some of Shetland’s islands, such as tunnels, need to be explored: “It may be an expensive project, but it has the potential to improve the lives of everyone in the isles, and unlock a world of commercial opportunities for Shetland.

“Better connectivity means it’s cheaper and easier for the council to provide local services,” he continued. "For me, it’s not a question of ‘can we afford it’, but rather, can we afford not to? I’m keen to see some real progress on it for not just those who are living on the islands and see this as a lifeline service, but for all Shetlanders who are currently having to burden the costs of the expense of the ferries.”