John has discovered that Highland Council officials have no legal advice to support their claims that continued funding for the Corran Ferry would breach EU ‘State Aid’ rules.
In fact, Highland Council have been specifically advised by the Scottish Government that public funding is allowed.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, Mr Finnie asked to see any legal advice Highland Council had regarding the ferry and State Aid rules, as well as the ferry’s accounts and analysis of its economic impact.
“Despite suggestions to the contrary, Highland Council have freely admitted ‘We do not hold any information that can be termed as legal advice’ to support the assertion that continued running of the service, at other than a profit, may breach State Aid rules.
“Instead, I have been given an exchange of emails between a Highland Council and a Scottish Government official.
“The emails are peppered with phrases like ‘there appears a possibility,’ and ‘probably prudent to assume,’ when what residents of Ardnamurchan deserve is an unequivocal commitment that the Council is working in their interests to maintain this life-line service.
“From the information I have secured, I’m sure constituents would have far sooner been advised that ‘it is still possible for the public sector to subsidise elements of the service (probably the passenger-only part as per the Gourock-Dunoon case) under strict PSO [public service obligation] rules as a Service of General Economic Interest, to ensure citizens have the same access to mainland services at a fair cost,’ as the Government’s State Aid Unit told Highland Council in one email.
“Highland Council should be aware of their obligation to serve all their citizens, regardless of geography, and rather than looking for ways to run away from this lifeline service, they should be providing a long-term commitment to communities in Ardnamurchan.
“I have written to the Council Leader reminding the administration that if they are really committed to sustaining rural communities they will withdraw this threat and get back to the drawing board.”