A BID to save taxpayers money by axing emergency tugboats has ended up costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, it emerged today.
Two vessels hired to carry out Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) duties around Shetland and the Western Isles were withdrawn last year to save around £420,000 a month.
But following protests at the decision, the tugboat service was restored – at a cost of more than £500,000 a month.
The bill for operating the “temporary” tugs has hit £3.8m over the past-seven-and-a-half months, around £640,000 more than the previous system would have cost.
The government has announced it will continue to fund one of the vessels for the next three years.
An arrangement is being sought for a privately-funded backup tug.
Western Isles MP and SNP transport spokesman, Angus MacNeil, said the UK Government could have avoided the costs if it had listened to previous warnings.
He said: “Only Westminster could make cuts in the name of cost-cutting but, after two years of uncertainty, land tax-payers with an even bigger bill for half the service.
“If the UK Government had listened to our warnings two years ago all of this cost and risk could have been avoided.”
The vessels provide pollution control and, in the past, have gone to the aid of private and military vessels in distress.
Provision of the vessel was recommended by Lord Donaldson in his report on the Braer disaster of 1993, when an oil tanker ran around Shetland while carrying 85,000 tonnes of oil.
Scottish Secretary Michael Moore announced last week that the government had agreed to fund one of the two tugs until 2015.
Government officials insisted last night the figures do not compare “like-with-like” and that there was previously a 10-year contract in place.
Last night, a government spokesman said: “The UK Government has gone to great lengths to provide emergency towing vessel cover to the end of the spending review.
“It is surprising to see that positive decision attacked by those who have repeatedly called for it to be made and even welcomed the news earlier this month, especially when they had no direct involvement with the Scottish ETV Group or Scotland Office throughout the process.
“We are content with contracts which delivered good value for money on the basis of market conditions, and procurement is under way for a longer-term replacement.”