ORKNEY’S lifeline ferry services are facing job losses and cuts as a result of a “perfect storm” of ageing vessels, an ageing crew and a historic funding shortfall stretching back three decades, union leaders have warned.

The RMT said the Scottish Government’s failure to properly fund the vital links meant “serious safety and accessibility issues” were not being addressed, while essential infrastructure work has effectively been abandoned.

In a letter to Nicola Sturgeon, it said this year’s Scottish Budget had left staff struggling under a £1.6 million funding gap. Following 30 years of under-resourcing, this left the fleet in dire need of investment and upgrading, the union said – threatening its viability.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash wrote: “For the last five years, RMT has been repeatedly warning your Government of the dangers to our members’ terms and conditions from a perfect storm of ageing vessels, ageing crew and historic funding shortfalls on council-run Orkney Ferries.

“We are now approaching the very real prospect of service and job cuts, as a direct result of the Scottish Government’s failure to properly fund these lifeline ferry services for Orcadians.

“As you would expect, any threat to RMT members’ jobs on Orkney Ferries will be fiercely resisted. We will continue to make this clear to the employer and we are now making it clear to the Scottish Government, as your administration’s policies have played a direct role in creating these avoidable industrial circumstances.”

The letter added: “Unsurprisingly, the fleet maintenance budget is rising and essential infrastructure work and seafarer training programmes have also been effectively abandoned by the employer in the face of this constant deficit.

“There are also serious safety and accessibility issues on such an aging fleet which are not being addressed.

“This is a mess that has been a long time in the making but should have been sorted out by now.”

Mr Cash said the average age of the Orkney Ferries fleet is 30 years old.

When it comes to the larger vessels, he said, no new ferry has been introduced since 1990.

He said the Scottish Government prides itself on consulting with and supporting remote island communities, but the long-standing problems at Orkney Ferries told a different story, “one of procrastination and indecision which is now threatening the future livelihoods of RMT members and Orcadian communities”.

In his letter, he urged ministers to take urgent action to “prevent any cuts to jobs or services at Orkney Ferries”.

Speaking separately, Mr Cash said: “For too long the Scottish Government have buried their heads in the sand when it comes to investment and resourcing of the life-line Orkney Ferry services and things have now come to a head as the toxic combination of factors threatens the very viability of the operation and the livelihoods of the staff who deliver it.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said Orkney Islands Council will receive almost £84 million for local services in 2019-20. She said: “This year’s budget has made available a further £10.5m in support for internal ferry services in Orkney and Shetland, bringing the total additional support provided in the last two years to £21 million. Part of last year’s extra funding from the Scottish Government was used by Orkney Islands Council to give ferry staff an above inflation pay rise of 11 per cent.

“Transport Scotland continues to be part of a working group to establish a long term solution in the provision of the internal ferry services – a long-standing challenge to be addressed that arises from decisions taken prior to the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament. Both Orkney and Shetland Islands Councils are now expected to draft outline business cases to provide clarity on future requirements, so that this process and period of uncertainty does not become an annual issue.”