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April 6, 2011

When more spending would make sense

Current mantra in public expenditure circles is all ‘save, save, save’. But sometimes it makes more sense to ‘spend a little to save a lot’ and this is particularly the case in some of the more remote, fragile communities.  The community on the Isle of Jura has been running a direct ferry to the mainland for the past three years. Although a small public subsidy is needed to make it viable, the islanders calculate that every £1 of subsidy generates £3 for the local economy.  Not enough, say the Council

Press release from Jura Development Trust

It is with great regret that we must announce that the Direct Passenger Ferry linking the Isle of Jura with Tayvallich in Knapdale, Argyll will not operate from Easter, 2011 as had been planned. The inability to run the service has been caused by the unwillingness of public bodies to provide the necessary operating subsidy.

Direct appeals to Argyll & Bute Council and to the Scottish Government have met with indifference. In January, Sandy MacTaggart, Argyll & Bute’s Executive Director of Development and Infrastructure Services failed to attend a meeting with representatives of Isle of Jura Development Trust to discuss future financing of the ferry. The meeting had been arranged to suit Mr MacTaggart, cost over four hundred pounds and 60 man-hours for the Jura representatives to attend and the only information imparted was that Argyll & Bute Council had no spare money for the Jura Ferry.

Councillor Robin Currie, (Kintyre & the Islands) has since established that £275,000 exists in a Discretionary Transport Fund, but, as of mid-March, no directive on how that money can be accessed has been issued by Argyll & Bute Council.

The response from the Scottish Government is worse. Direct appeals to them in November, 2010 and February, 2011 have been sidelined. Eventually, responses were received from junior members of staff dismissing any further discussion on funding because the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure considered the ferry to be a locally supported service and not part of the remit of Transport Scotland.

This argument is inaccurate. The successful, and award winning, trial of the ferry over the past three years has established that the link is feasible and effective. Passenger numbers are rising and there is a proven economic benefit to businesses in Jura and Tayvallich. In addition there are demonstrable social benefits to Jura having a direct mainland link once more. The Scottish Government dismisses these benefits as being insignificant when it should be willing to enter into an extensive discussion on how the ferry can obtain immediate funding, to allow the ferry to operate in 2011, and sustainable funding for future years. The ferry will always require a subsidy, but this is true for most transport links in Scotland. However, the percentage of subsidy required by the Jura Direct Passenger Ferry is less than most other ferries and has been declining year on year. The economic benefit derived from the subsidy is almost 3 to 1. That is, each £1 spent on subsidy increases the local economy by £3.

Jura needs a direct mainland link and that as the only feasible link presently available, the Passenger Ferry should qualify for support from Transport Scotland and, considering how little money is required relative to the overall budget, support should be immediately available. An island without a direct ferry service is an island without a heart. Transport Scotland should recognise this and enter into discussions on finance for the ferry. They should not dismiss the Jura Ferry as being insignificant and unimportant and should be willing to discuss openly why they will not fund this vital ferry.