Tourism on Arran (Ferry Services)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 25th April 2019.

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Photo of Neil Bibby Neil Bibby Labour

6. To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs has had with the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands regarding the importance of ferry services to Arran’s tourism industry. (S5O-03141)

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

The importance of physical and digital connectivity to support the visitor economy on all our islands, including Arran, together with on-going Scottish Government investment in new vessels and ferry infrastructure, is a frequent topic in my discussions with colleagues. Island connectivity and the crucial role that sustainable tourism plays in island economies were among the topics relating to the year of coasts and waters 2020 that I discussed with the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands at our recent meeting on Tuesday 23 April 2019.

Photo of Neil Bibby Neil Bibby Labour

Is the cabinet secretary aware of reports from the Arran ferry committee that the number of cancelled crossings has doubled over the past year? In a damning report, the committee states that the current service

“promotes frustration, confusion, low confidence and reputational damage, threatening the current and future sustainability of our island.”

That disruption affects many aspects of island life, including Arran’s tourism industry. Given that the only way that tourists can get to Arran is by ferry, will the cabinet secretary ensure that the concerns are acted on and that confidence is restored in a ferry service that is of such central importance to the island’s tourism industry?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

As the member will know, I am not responsible for ferries either, as responsibility for ferries lies in the transport portfolio. That said, I recognise the absolute importance of ferry connections to tourism and the economy of the islands. In August 2018, the Scottish Government announced a £3.5 million resilience fund, to which an additional £4 million has been allocated in the 2019-20 budget period that we are now entering to ensure future reliability and availability of vessels and continuity of service. Moreover, the Scottish Government has introduced other measures such as, for example, the road equivalent tariff, which has considerably benefited the islands and increased visitor numbers.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

What is the impact on Arran’s tourism industry of the Government’s decision to increase the number of summer sailings and to implement the road equivalent tariff in 2014, which has more than halved ferry fares from what they were under Labour, as well as the provision of the £12.6 million MV Catriona on the Lochranza to Claonaig route?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Despite the fact that I am not responsible for either finance or ferries, I would say that tourism is everyone’s business, which is why connectivity matters so much. I appreciate the concerns that have been expressed, but I can tell the member that, on the main Ardrossan to Brodick route, single car fares were reduced by 64 per cent and passenger fares by 46 per cent as a result of the Government’s introduction of RET on the Arran links.

We know that more people are travelling to and from Arran, with an average increase on both Arran routes of around 40 per cent for passengers and around 60 per cent for cars since the introduction of RET. That demonstrates Scotland’s commitment to North Ayrshire, Arran and the tourism sector in that area.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

The cabinet secretary will be relieved to learn that I am not going to mention the late delivery of the new Arran ferry—although I just have.

Outside my regional office, I often see cars queueing up for another ferry route in the same area. It is mainly tourists in peak season but there are often locals, too, and they can queue for up to two hours to make the short 10-minute journey from Largs to the island of Cumbrae. Is there a role for the Government in assisting local authorities to ensure that there are more parking facilities on the mainland as well as good public transport on the islands to encourage tourists to travel as foot passengers instead of feeling the need, as they often do, to take their car?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

As the member will be aware, there are very regular and frequent ferry services in that area. Obviously, peak times and flows should be managed, and that is something that the council can do.

However, these things are the results of success. I am very pleased that the Ayrshire growth deal, in which the Scottish Government has been instrumental, has a key focus on the marine economy and tourism in general, and I am going to keep a keen interest in that. I was in North Ayrshire to announce the £300,000 from the Scottish Government for the Coig project—which covers five different routes, including Cumbrae—and that, again, demonstrates our commitment to Ayrshire and to tourism businesses in the area.

Everyone has a role to play; it is that partnership approach that will lead to success, and I encourage the council to ensure that any waiting times are, where possible, limited and to look at what can be done in surrounding areas. However, I again point out that, as the member’s party is always reminding us, councils are independent of Government, and we have to respect their independence in making such decisions.