Ferries Resilience Fund

– in the Scottish Parliament on 25th April 2019.

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Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

1. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how its resilience fund to reduce the risk of ferries breaking down has been spent. (S5O-03144)

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

Since the announcement of its introduction in August 2018, the resilience fund has been used in 23 individual resilience projects across the fleet of vessels that are deployed to provide the Clyde and Hebrides services. Based on information presented to us, that investment should result in a significant improvement to fleet resilience this year. The projects range from upgrades to the full propulsion and bow thruster controls on four vessels to a replacement water mist firefighting pump on another. Further upgrades are planned to reduce the risk of technical failures impacting on service reliability.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

As the minister will be aware, last week, ferry services to the Isle of Barra suffered serious disruption due to technical problems that affected the MV Isle of Lewis, leaving the community there without a link to the mainland for far too long. What lessons can be learned from that incident, particularly with regard to ensuring that communities are less reliant on either replacement parts or engineers having to be flown in so that vessels can be repaired?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I recognise the key role that ferry services play in supporting island and remote mainland communities such as those that Dr Allan represents. I appreciate the disruption that was experienced when the MV Isle of Lewis was recently removed from the Oban to Barra service for a three-day period due to a problem with its bow thruster exhaust system and the connection to the hull.

I am pleased to say that the vessel is now back in service. Caledonian MacBrayne is working with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd—CMAL—to assess the scope of works that could be carried out at a future dry docking of the vessel, to ensure that those can be tackled proactively the next time that it is there. That may widen the scope for more preventative measures to be carried out in the future. We are looking at such measures to ensure that that situation is not repeated elsewhere in the fleet.

However, Dr Allan is absolutely right about looking at initiatives such as the purchase of spare parts, which is being done. Given that some vessels were built many years ago and parts for them are no longer available on the market, t he operator has been involved in commissioning production of replacements for what are thought to be obsolete parts, to ensure that they are in place in advance. It is working hard to ensure the availability of parts so that those that are most likely to fail can be replaced—and vessels returned to service—quickly.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I have much sympathy with Dr Allan’s question. Recently, it seems to have been a case of groundhog day, with so many vessels having come offline. I ask the minister whether that has had anything to do with the fact that half of CalMac’s fleet are beyond their 25-year life expectancy. Given that the two newest ferries that are due to enter the fleet are already over a year late, will he agree that the status quo is simply unacceptable and is letting down Scotland’s island communities every day?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

First, I accept that the delays to the two new vessels 801 and 802 are greatly disappointing. That is a matter of record; I have said so myself. The Scottish Government is concerned to ensure that those vessels are delivered soon so that we can introduce them to the fleet to provide more capacity. That will help enormously with the need to cascade vessels across the Clyde and Hebrides routes, and is an objective that I am sure we all share.

However, I challenge Mr Greene’s assertion that communities are being let down on what he appears to suggest is a routine basis. I acknowledge that there have been difficulties. [


.] Mr Greene might complain from a sedentary position, but I am trying to respond to his question. Let us not forget that CalMac has a very good record otherwise. It has high levels of customer satisfaction despite the issues that I acknowledge have happened in the past year, which are not satisfactory and must be addressed—I am not running away from those. However, let us not detract from the fact that, generally speaking, CalMac delivers a good service to communities. It is recognised as a lifeline service and its staff work very hard on behalf of the communities that it serves. I ask Mr Greene to reflect on the tone of his question, but I accept that there are issues that must be addressed.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

In his reply, the minister mentioned cascading ferries across the different routes. At the moment, the new MV Loch Seaforth can use only three ports. In addition, my understanding is that operating the two new ferries that are on order will require substantial changes to be made to the ports that they will use. Therefore, it will be impossible to cascade ferries across different routes. Surely the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland should be looking at a way to ensure that ferries can fit into any port, so that they can be used in such circumstances.

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

At the heart of Rhoda Grant’s comment is a genuine point and one that we acknowledge. Historically, vessels have been designed for specific routes and perhaps not enough thought has been given to how they could be interchangeable across the network. There are local conditions that are limiting factors on the use of vessels, including depth of water, harbour approach conditions, orientation of berths and, not least, the fact that larger vessels cannot navigate in tightly confined spaces, as the member would acknowledge.

However, we are making progress on the interchangeability of vessels across the network, and we are looking at the vessel replacement deployment plan and how we can work with CalMac and CMAL to develop greater resilience, which will be designed in from the start. That cannot be done overnight, as I am sure that Rhoda Grant would acknowledge. It is an issue that we recognise and are working to try to address.

The MV Loch Seaforth is one of the most reliable vessels that we have. It is very reliable and has experienced only one incident of note so far. I hope that Rhoda Grant will accept that point.