Discussion of Scotland’s Ferries was brought to the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 6th of November in a debate raised by the Conservatives who questioned the resilience of the service.
Leading the debate for the Tories, Jamie Greene said:
“When the weather becomes an issue, our vessels and docks are not geared up for those weather events. Having an ageing fleet means that those vessels need more maintenance than newer vessels; it means that, when they need maintenance, they have to go offline; it means vessel replacement; and it means taking a ship from one route and putting it on to another. It is not simply about mechanical breakdown; an ageing fleet has a much wider effect than that.”
Local MSP Rhoda Grant also hit out at the Scottish Government’s ferry provision and condemned the government for not listening to local people.
Rhoda Grant said:
“This Government’s record in providing ferry services has been abysmal.
“When Loch Seaforth was built for the Stornoway to Ullapool route, the community wanted two smaller boats. This would enable more sailings in the summer and provide cover throughout the fleet in the winter for dry-docking.
“Instead, the Government gave them one large vessel that does not provide sufficient capacity in the summer and sails half empty in the winter.”
Since RET (Road Equivalent Tariff) was introduced, reducing the fares for vehicles, the number of tourists wishing to visit the west coast islands has increased substantially.
On RET Rhoda Grant said:
“The Government brought in RET, another flagship policy, but did so without providing any additional capacity. This means the very policy put in place to help islanders has had the effect of shutting them out of ferries.
“People travelling at short notice cannot get a place on the boat to make these journeys. People who need to get to hospital, to visit sick relatives and to attend funerals all find that they cannot travel. Port staff do their utmost to help but most people are now routed through the centralised call centre and do not get to speak direct to port staff.
Northern Isles Ferries
Turning her attention to the Northern Isles Rhoda Grant criticised the delays in awarding the contract which she claimed had “shut out the lowest bidder”. She questioned that there was not sufficient freight capacity in the Northern Isles Fleet.
Rhoda Grant also condemned the delays to the MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 referring to it as a “vanity project.”
MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 are dual-fuel ferries under construction at the Ferguson Marine Yard. They will be the first of their kind in the UK but hit extreme problems when Ferguson Marine went into administration. Ferguson Marine will be under the management of Macrocom, a company wholly owned by Scottish Ministers, with final contracts being signed in the coming weeks.
Derek Mackay, Finance Secretary in the Scottish Government said:
“Our focus has always been on ensuring completion of the two public sector ferries at the best value for money for the taxpayer, while also working towards the delivery of the other vessels under construction at the yard, and in doing so, securing jobs for the workforce.
“Today marks another important milestone in the transition into public ownership and I will also receive the Programme Review Board’s report on the schedule and cost for delivery of the two ferries shortly.
“While we’ve been working with the administrators to bring the yard into public ownership, work on the ferries has been progressing, and additional staff have been recruited.
“The action that we have taken will ensure there is a future for Ferguson Marine.”
Orkney’s Internal Fleet
Orkney Constituency MSP Liam McArthur, Lib/Dems hit out at the Scottish Government’s response to Orkney’s internal ferry fleet problems.
Liam McArthur said:
“Given the age of the vessels operating these services, operating costs have gone up as reliability has gone down. The need to replace them with vessels that are fit for purpose is growing more urgent by the day.
“Sadly, we still have no timetable for when this will happen. During the passage of the Islands Act last year, Ministers promised that these issues would be addressed in the National Islands Plan. Yet the plan published last month contained nothing new and was dismissed by Orkney Islands Council as ‘very disappointing’ and ‘without any real substance’. This at the same time as Minsters were also backsliding on promises to ‘fair funding’ of the internal ferry service.
“The communities who rely on these lifeline services demand better, as do the crews asked to operate this ageing fleet. Given that it will take time to design, procure and deliver any new vessels, Ministers must now come forward with a timetable for bringing Orkney’s internal ferry fleet into the modern age”.
Investment in the Ferry Service
Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands in the Scottish Government said:
“The Scottish Government has invested over £2 billion in the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services, northern isles ferry services and ferry infrastructure since 2007. That includes investment of almost £1.7 billion in operational costs, over £116 million associated with piers and harbours infrastructure, and £7.5 million for upgrades and resilience of vessels. Ferries with a capital value of over £255 million have been secured for service across Scotland. The investment also includes investment in the roll-out of significantly reduced fares through the road equivalent tariff scheme.
“Eight new vessels have been introduced in the CalMac fleet since 2007, and a further two are in construction. There has been significant recent investment to secure the long-term use of the three Ropax passenger vessels and the two freighters for continued operation on the northern isles ferry services, and of MV Loch Seaforth for continued operation on the Stornoway to Ullapool route.
“The Scottish Government’s budget for 2019-20 ensures continued support for subsidised ferry services across Scotland’s islands. Capital funds are allocated in the budget to support the continued construction of MV Glen Sannox and hull 802.”
On the issue of Orkney’s internal ferry fleet Paul Wheelhouse stated that it was the Conservative UK Government which in the 1980’s separated the running of the inter island services. Paul Wheelhouse commented that he has been working with Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council.
“Orkney Islands Council is keen to transfer services, but Shetland Islands Council is not and wishes to retain services. We are looking to help them with investment in the internal ferry routes.”
You can watch the whole debate here:
Reporter: Fiona Grahame