The reality is that Scotland’s ferry service is under tremendous pressure: there is no doubt about that. That pressure disproportionately affects our island communities, businesses, residents and visitors. We have spent a lot of time already in the chamber discussing the political ramifications of who owns what, or who should own what. However, I do not see any value in rehashing those arguments in today’s debate.
I have brought this debate to the chamber because we are fast approaching winter, when the resilience of Scotland’s ferries will be pushed to its very limits. I make no apologies for using parliamentary time to bang on about the ferries again, because, quite frankly, somebody has to. I judge the importance of the issue of connectivity to our islands by the volume of correspondence that I get on it, as do many others across the political spectrum, and the fact that it is the number 1 issue on people’s lips when we visit island communities.
Let me paint a picture of where we are at the moment. As well as giving the statistics that are involved, of which there are many, I will paint a picture of the human aspect to the debate, which is often lost when we talk about funding, strategies and reports. To date, delays and cancellations have accumulated to more than 82,000 since 2007. The numbers in the course of the past 12 years speak for themselves: the number of delays and cancellations in our ferry network has skyrocketed. In 2009-10, there were 1,800 cancellations of services per year across the CalMac Ferries network, all of them regrettable. Last year, the number had risen to more than 4,400, which is an increase of 130 per cent. In 2009-10, the number of delays in the network was 2,000 per year, which was, again, regrettable. However, last year, the number of delays had risen to 5,500, which is an increase of 160 per cent. The reality is that since the Government took office, there have been more than 43,000 cancellations and 39,000 delays.
Thank you. Presiding Officer, I look forward to you giving me the opportunity to speak later.
Jamie Greene mentioned the statistics for the past year. Does he not recognise that, as set out in my amendment to his motion, there has been significant improvement in reliability over the past 12 months? It would be nice if Jamie Greene would acknowledge that. Only 0.67 per cent of ferry services have suffered cancellation through technical failure this year.
The minister has chosen to mention a very small number of cancellations that were due to mechanical breakdown. I will come on to his amendment in a moment, but it misses the point. What the minister is trying to say, in other words, is that 99.4 per cent of cancellations were weather related. I presume that that is the minister’s point. I do not know whether that is an accurate number, but I am sure that when the minister speaks he will clarify that.
I need to make progress through my points.
By looking at a period of only nine months, the minister is painting a very small picture—I am looking at the past 12 years since this Government came to power, because that is what people are really worried about.
I will briefly mention Labour’s amendment, because it makes some valid points. The important point from Labour’s amendment is that it highlights the excellent work that the staff who work for our ferry services do. They work in extremely difficult circumstances and they make the best of the assets that are available to them—assets that frequently let them, as well as passengers, down.
Labour’s amendment also makes an important point about the importance of delivering the new vessels that were ordered—vessels 801 and 802.
When the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee asked whether the late arrival of those vessels would have a knock-on effect on fleet resilience, the answer was simple—yes. However, there is no mention of that in Mr Wheelhouse’s amendment.
So, when he responds to my comments, will the minister explain to Parliament not only why a detailed plan on the revised timetable and costings to deliver those vessels, which Derek Mackay promised would be with the Parliament by the end of October, has not materialised, but why no reason has been given for its absence? In fact, in response to today’s debate, the Government seeks to amend my motion by simply deleting it, and replacing it by saying, “There is nothing to see here. We are doing a great job. There is not a problem here”.
The Government’s defence that—as the minister said—a small proportion of cancellations was avoidable misses the point. Ten years ago, the number of cancellations on the Ardrossan to Brodick route was 86 per year; last year, that number was 328. Tell me that that is the sign of success and of a good service. On the Lochranza service, that number went from 160 to 215 in the same period. Is the weather really that different from one side of Arran to another?
The problem is that, 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. The minister knows that we have a problem and that the status quo is not okay for our islanders, and he must know how unhappy people are about the unreliability of the fleet. If he does not know, he is either not asking or not listening.
I said that I would mention the human aspect, and I will now briefly do so. I was written to by an elderly resident who lives on Arran. On getting to the hospital, he said:
“Due to the current unreliable status of the Ardrossan ferry service, it means that I need to make the ferry crossing journey at least a day early, sometimes two”.
He has to leave two days earlier than his appointment to get there. Another resident wrote to say that they are fed up with the service, and that
“unreliability makes it harder to attract and retain the talent the island needs thereby hampering our economic growth”.
Those are their words—not mine. Even the former managing director of CalMac said that it does not have fleet resilience, and that any breakdown will have a knock-on effect on the rest of the fleet. The Government has known for years that new ferries are needed. I ask simply: where are they, minister?
I challenge the Scottish National Party members: when they rise to speak in the debate, will they accept the Government’s amendment, which simply deletes my motion, makes excuses, apologises for nothing, and buries its head in the sand? Will they stick up for their constituents or their front bench? I know who we will stick up for, and it is about time that they did the same.
That the Parliament notes its growing concern with the resilience of Scotland’s ferry network; highlights that over 82,000 delays and cancellations have occurred since 2007; believes that the combination of an ageing fleet of vessels, mechanical breakdowns and the late arrival of new operational vessels for the network have resulted in avoidable disruption to services to the detriment of Scotland’s island communities, their inhabitants, business and tourism; expresses disappointment at the absence of a long-term strategy to procure or build replacement vessels, and calls on the Scottish Government to urgently outline how it will address the Parliament’s concerns.
The Scottish Government understands the importance of safe and reliable ferry services to meet the needs of our remote and island communities. Those lifeline ferry services are critical to the continued socio-economic development of our island communities.
As I have previously indicated in this Parliament, and as set out in the proposed national islands plan, we remain committed to improving our ferry services, and the issues that matter most to the businesses and communities that rely on them are service quality and reliability.
I have undertaken a considerable number of meetings with stakeholders over the past year, and I am far from complacent in respect of further improving the reliability and punctuality of Scotland’s supported ferry services. That said, it is important to record that performance has already improved. The actual reliability of all CalMac sailings for the period January to September 2019, which also takes into account weather disruption, is 97 per cent, which is an improvement of 0.5 percentage points when compared with the same period last year. The actual reliability of all NorthLink Ferries that sailed over the same period is more than 98.1 per cent, which is an improvement of 0.4 percentage points compared to the same period in 2018. As my amendment makes clear, just 873 out of 130,184 sailings—or just 0.67 per cent—were affected by technical issues in the past year.
Although the hard work and dedication of the staff and crew of CalMac Ferries and NorthLink Ferries are key to delivering reliability improvements, the Scottish Government’s continued support has also been a factor. In August 2018, we announced a £3.5 million resilience fund to reduce the risk of vessels in the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services breaking down. A further £4 million was announced in the 2019-20 budget. The funds are used and will continue to be used to upgrade or replace key systems and equipment on vessels to improve the resilience of the fleet, with works undertaken as part of the annual maintenance programme.
Despite real-terms funding reductions by the United Kingdom Government, 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.
Allocation has also been made in the budget for the Skye triangle and Ardrossan port projects. As part of that, we have recently approved investment of £15 million by Transport Scotland and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd in the harbour upgrade at Tarbert on Harris.
However, we cannot be complacent. My SNP colleagues and I acknowledge the huge frustration that passengers experience when services are not reliable or do not match demand, even when that is experienced in the context of the wider success of the operators.
Five of the last six orders for new vessels have been awarded to Scottish yards. The Government sees the contribution that ferries make to our supply chain and to securing growth in our maritime economy. All five of those Scotland-built vessels will deploy hybrid and dual fuel technologies to reduce harmful emissions, which will make an important contribution to our overarching strategy to reduce emissions.
The Scottish Government has continued to support vessel investment and the commercial shipbuilding sector in Scotland through the construction of MV Glen Sannox and hull 802 at Ferguson Marine and, through public ownership of the yard, which is supported by the trade unions, we will work to safeguard and create shipbuilding jobs at the yard. Ferguson Marine has high-standard facilities and a highly skilled and capable workforce.
We have achieved much, but we must continue to look forward and build on our investment to date. We have a strategic investment programme, which we will keep under review. Investment, such as for Islay, is being made in accordance with the published vessel replacement and deployment plan. The next version of that plan is currently in final drafting. It will take into account findings that emerge from the appraisals under the Scottish transport appraisal guidance of the outer Hebrides, Mallaig to Armadale and Craignure routes. The final report is due to be published later this year. In particular, that will have to reflect the huge success of the road equivalent tariff and its impact on passenger demand on some routes.
The next ferries plan will be taken forward following the finalisation of the national transport strategy and in parallel with the strategic transport projects review, which will also consider other potential viable options for connecting our islands. That work is being taken forward jointly by Transport Scotland, CMAL and CalMac. As I have previously indicated, we will also work in close consultation with key businesses and community stakeholders. We will engage with the trade unions to reflect the operational impact of any proposals on staff and crew.
Those are, quite properly, long-term measures. Given the scale of investment, it is important that we take an informed, strategic and balanced approach.
I will say more in my closing remarks. I look forward to the debate ahead.
I move amendment S5M-19715.3, to leave out from “notes its growing concern” to end and insert:
“recognises the improving performance of the ferry services that are directly supported by the Scottish Government; acknowledges the inconvenience that disruption can cause, but notes that only 873, or 0.67%, of the 130,184 sailings on Scottish Government-subsidised ferry services have been cancelled due to technical reasons in 2019; commends the hard-working and dedicated staff and crew in delivering these reliability improvements; notes the improvements, including new routes, more sailings and lower fares, that have helped drive passenger growth on an annual basis, with these ferry services now carrying over six million passengers, or an increase of some 16.1% since 2012; acknowledges that, despite facing real-terms funding reductions by the UK Government, the Scottish Government has invested more than £2 billion in ferry services and infrastructure since 2007; notes that investment has been made in accordance with the published Vessel Replacement and Deployment Plan and that the next Ferries Plan will be taken forward following the finalisation of the National Transport Strategy and in parallel with the Strategic Transport Projects Review, and notes that, in the context of the need for renewal of the fleet, the Scottish Government has continued to support vessel investment and the commercial shipbuilding sector in Scotland through the construction of the MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 at Ferguson Marine and through public ownership of the yard, which is supported by the trade unions, and will work to safeguard and create shipbuilding jobs at the yard.”
We cannot overstate the importance of Scotland’s ferry network to our island communities. Last year, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee carried out budget scrutiny of investment to support the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services. In its evidence to the committee, Western Isles Council described its ferry links as
“central to the sustainability and wellbeing of the island communities”,
and Argyll and Bute Council said that the network is
“the very means to survive and prosper.”
That survival is under threat from the type of disruption that many of our island communities have suffered in recent years, which has been caused by the lack of capacity and resilience on many of our routes that rely on an ever-ageing fleet. More than half of CMAL’s fleet is more than 20 years old and more than a quarter of it is more than 30 years old. That not only impacts on reliability but has caused maintenance costs to skyrocket by more than 150 per cent over the past 10 years, meaning that more vessels are being withdrawn for longer for extra maintenance, which is a point that the Government’s amendment ignores.
This winter, CalMac alone is planning £9 million of extra maintenance on the Clyde and Hebrides network, in addition to its on-going maintenance schedule, just to keep the fleet afloat and to try to make it more resilient. Every year, more and more money is needed to mitigate the risks of a fleet that is too old and not fit for purpose and which is being kept going by the, at times, heroic efforts of staff on the ferries and in our ports. That money could have been saved if a more proactive and strategic approach to vessel replacement had been taken.
In 2017, Audit Scotland concluded:
“There is no Scotland-wide, long-term strategy”.
Ten years ago, the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee called on the Scottish Government to produce a national ferries strategy that would detail long-term plans for routes, ferry replacement, refurbishment and port infrastructure, accompanied by an implementation and delivery plan with a clear programme of funding, but that has still not been delivered. More than ever, we need a proper long-term ferries strategy that delivers comprehensive and strategic planning for our fleet and sets out a regular programme of replacement. Not only will that improve the reliability of the ferry network, it will benefit Scotland’s shipbuilding sector, whose jobs remain crucial to the Scottish economy. A strategy for ferry replacement that sets out a clear programme of work will help to provide certainty for the shipbuilding sector, allowing it to invest in yards, create jobs and develop and maintain vital skills and expertise. As well as allowing yards to invest, the steady drumbeat of consistent work will improve efficiency and deliver better value for the public purse.
Therefore, Labour welcomes the recent decision to save Ferguson Marine in order to protect the yard’s future and the vital jobs that it provides. However, we still have not seen any schedule from the Government that shows when the two new ferries that are being built at the yard will be completed, and we need to be clear about the actions and the lack of earlier intervention that put those jobs at risk in the first place. The Ferguson Marine workforce has been working tirelessly to deliver the new ferries under incredibly difficult circumstances, and its work and expertise should not be overshadowed by events over which it has no control. The workforce wants the ferries to be delivered as much as the communities that they will ultimately serve. Those workers, more than anyone, want a long-term vision for shipbuilding.
It is clear that the lack of resilience and capacity, particularly at peak times on particular routes, is a barrier to our island communities that prevents islanders from accessing healthcare, employment, education and more. The failure to have a programme of more regular ferry replacement is undermining our shipyards. More than ever, we need a modern ferry network that properly meets the needs of Scotland’s island communities, and we need a strong shipbuilding sector to protect the jobs that are so important to our economy. It is time for the Scottish Government to deliver both.
I move amendment S5M-19715.2, to insert at end
“; notes the challenges many routes face with regard to capacity and the impact this has on connectivity and access to services; commends the work of the dedicated and resourceful ferry workers to deliver another winter timetable in difficult weather and technical conditions on ageing fleets; welcomes the decision to save Ferguson Marine by taking it into public ownership and reiterates the importance of delivering the MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 as quickly as possible; recognises the importance of the Scottish shipbuilding sector and the jobs it provides; believes that there should be a Scottish ferry building programme; regrets that the ferry services procurement policy review has not made more progress, and believes that Scotland’s lifeline ferry services should be publicly owned.”
“It is the role of the Government to provide the long term strategy for continuing to meet the needs of the communities that rely on ferry services.”
Those are not my words but those of CalMac, in its submission to the REC Committee. It also said:
“Between 2012 and 2017 the number of cars carried has grown by 37% to 1.43m per year and passenger numbers have risen by 17% to 5.2 million per year.”
In the same submission, CalMac said:
“Despite many Trust, local authority or privately-owned ports to which CalMac operates accruing millions of pounds in berthing duties, it is not clear how this income has been re-invested in ports.”
That is very important, because Mr Greene used the term “our docks”. This is a very complicated situation. I understand that you want to slag off the whole approach over a lengthy period, and I understand that the Government wants to say that everything is as positive as it can be. However, I have to pull you up for saying that the Government is unwilling to apologise, given that the Government’s amendment is explicit in acknowledging the inconvenience that has been caused.
I will also pick up on something that my colleague Colin Smyth said. CalMac states:
“It is impossible to overstate the importance of lifeline ferry services to the long-term economic sustainability of remote and vulnerable island communities.”
I am very proud to represent such communities, and it will not surprise you that, in recent months, I have used ferries on a number of occasions. On each occasion, the ferry was perfectly on time, the staff were courteous and the service was very efficient. Of course—
The question is why this suddenly became an issue from 2007. I wonder why that year has been picked, because it is very peculiar, to my mind. In the REC Committee’s pre-budget scrutiny, we heard clearly—I see that Mr Cameron is shaking his head, but I do not think that he would take issue with what Highlands and Islands transport partnership told us. It noted that no new major ferries entered service between 2001 and 2011.
We know the age and profile of the fleet—I beg your pardon, Presiding Officer, for averting my eyes. We know how important that is; as with anything, whether it is a motor vehicle or a pedal cycle, the longer we have it, the more repairs are needed and all the rest. There has been a long run-in time to the present situation; it has not suddenly appeared. There has been neglect over decades that is manifesting itself now. It is manifesting itself with the MV Glen Sannox and hull 802, which are desperately needed.
The economic reality is a fact, and the mention in the Government amendment of a reduction in funding is entirely appropriate. The Scottish Green Party will have a different manifesto and has different transport priorities; they will not be about £6 billion for two roads, and they will ensure that public services, including our lifeline ferry services, are properly funded.
I commend the Scottish Government not on its overall approach but on some of the things that it has done, not least the RET and taking the yard into public ownership. We are a maritime nation and we rely on a number of ferries to be replaced. I want Scotland to be known as a location that makes quality ferries—perhaps rather than warships—and we have a long way to go with that. We are not talking exclusively about the fleet that the Scottish Government has responsibility for; there are also the internal services in Orkney and Shetland. There are opportunities there; we are a maritime nation and there needs to be innovation. I regret that the public service ethos is not being followed for the northern isles contract, because I do not think that Serco should have the opportunity there.
Is everything great? No. Is everything awful? No. We will support the Labour amendment.
I thank Jamie Greene for the debate. He is right that somebody needs to bang on about ferries, and I take considerable pride in having been that someone. I cannot think of any issue that I have raised more frequently with ministers, and indeed with the First Minister, since being elected in 2007.
I recognise the public concerns that are referred to in the motion, not just in relation to the problems that are caused to individuals, businesses and communities in our islands and coastal areas from disruption to lifeline ferry services but, looking further ahead, in relation to the growing concerns about a lack of resilience in Scotland’s ferry network as a result of having an ageing fleet.
Mr Greene, Colin Smyth and others have understandably focused more of their remarks on what is happening on the west coast and in relation to the fall-out over the future of the Ferguson Marine yard. I assure the chamber that the concerns that are being highlighted today, which the minister seems to have airbrushed out through his amendment, are very much shared by the community that I represent in Orkney.
The minister will know that the internal ferry services in Orkney—
No—the minister will have time to respond later. The i nternal ferry services in Orkney are already well below the minimum standard that was set out in the Government’s national ferries plan, in terms of cost, frequency and accessibility. Across a range of measures, the north and south isles in Orkney are getting a raw deal in the quality of the internal ferry services on which they depend.
Most of the vessels are desperately in need of replacement. The minister knows that and it is a message that I have been reinforcing with him and his predecessors for some time, as have successive administrations of Orkney Island Council. I have lost track of how many Scottish transport appraisal guidance appraisals have been carried out since I was first elected. Each appraisal serves only to highlight the increasingly urgent need for new vessels, yet still there is no plan in place or agreement from the Government to help to meet the cost of vessels that are crucial to the future viability of some of our most fragile island communities.
That is despite bold promises that were made by the former transport and islands minister during the passage of the Islands (Scotland) Bill last year. At the time, Mr Yousaf told us to await publication of the national islands plan to see the detail of the Government’s commitment on lifeline ferry services. When the draft plan was finally published last month, however, there was little to offer reassurance to people and businesses in Orkney. There was no sign that ministers were preparing to deliver on those promises, and no recognition of the responsibility to help to deliver a level of service that is in line with the standards that are set out in the Government’s ferries plan.
That is simply not good enough. It is a failure that leaves island communities in Orkney less resilient and more vulnerable, puts island businesses at a competitive disadvantage at a time when they are already dealing with plenty of uncertainty, and forces crew members to do their best with resources that are no longer fit for purpose. It is little wonder that the leader of Orkney Islands Council described the islands plan as “very disappointing” and “a missed opportunity” and as being “without any real substance”.
The Scottish Government needs to face up to its responsibilities in relation to the replacement of Orkney’s internal ferry fleet. The Government needs to stop short-changing Orkney and must help to ensure that the level of service at least meets the minimum standards that are set out in its ferries plan. It needs to stop lodging amendments that gloss over concerns and paint a picture that everything is rosy when it comes to Scotland’s ferry network. Scottish Liberal Democrats will support the motion at decision time.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I am disappointed by the Scottish National Party’s failure to acknowledge that there are issues, as evidenced principally by its amendment and the minister’s contribution. The minister says that we cannot be complacent, yet Liam McArthur is absolutely right that there is the usual “Nothing to see here” gloss, with the SNP effectively telling island communities and their inhabitants, businesses and tourism that there is no problem and no scope to improve. However, there are challenges.
In 2018, the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee took evidence on Audit Scotland’s report on “Transport Scotland’s ferry services”. We discovered that in, 2016-17, Transport Scotland spent £209.7 million on ferry services and assets. That is a sizeable figure that, to be fair, had increased by 115 per cent over 10 years, although that was for an increase in passengers of 0.3 per cent. However, at least there is a strategy, right? Wrong. Audit Scotland said that
“There is no Scotland-wide, long term strategy”,
with the result that,
“In the context of limited public finances, Transport Scotland will find it challenging to continue to provide ferry services that meet the needs of users within its allocated budget.”
In light of that conclusion, perhaps the minister will outline in closing whether his intention is to increase fares, reduce services or cut back on capital spending.
At least we can demonstrate empirically that island communities are getting the benefits. Oh, wait—no we cannot, because, according to Audit Scotland,
“Transport Scotland does not routinely measure the contribution that ferry services make to social and economic outcomes ... which makes it difficult to determine whether its spending is value for money.”
But at least we can be reassured that the tendering process is robust. Well, no. On the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services, Audit Scotland tells us that the two tenderers submitted over 800 queries and that CalMac’s bid has 350 commitments whose achievement cannot be assessed. Of course, right after the contract was awarded, the successful contract increased in price by over £100 million, so that, between 2007 and 2017, the subsidies on the CHFS contract went up by 185 per cent.
Such issues raise serious questions about the SNP’s ability to deliver ferry services and reveal a cavalier attitude to spending taxpayers’ cash with little or no regard to value for money.
Here is why I want to flag the issue. I recall travelling several times on the Gourock to Dunoon route with Western Ferries. The ferries on that route have low cancellation rates, with only six cancellations this year from 27,000 sailings. They are car ferries, which may have contributed to the 17 per cent increase in cars transported since 2007 and the 1 per cent increase in passenger numbers. This year, the ferries have provided crossings for 30 blue-light emergency vehicles. However, the SNP cannot take credit for that record, because that company, which employs predominantly local people and transports local vehicles, did not receive a penny in subsidy. That is unlike the state-owned competitor, Argyll Ferries, which, according to Audit Scotland, had a 148 per cent increase in subsidy and does not carry vehicles.
The minister mentioned Serco NorthLink Ferries. I echo the minister in saying that it is a well-run and efficient service that uses lots of local produce from the north-east and the islands, which is to the benefit of our communities. I think that there has been a 20 per cent passenger increase since 2013. However, although the years between 2011 and 2016 saw massive increases in subsidy to state providers, support to NorthLink reduced by more than a third.
John Finnie is absolutely right that it is not easy to run a ferry service. However, if the state is to run services, we cannot ignore the challenges of the tendering process, the issues that make running those services difficult, the lack of monitoring and defined outcomes or considerations of value for money. The SNP’s constant pretence that all is well does a disservice to passengers, businesses and, as Liam McArthur rightly said, the workers who are doing their best to provide these vital, valuable and iconic lifeline services. The SNP has been in charge for more than 12 years. It is time for it to stand aside and let someone competent take over.
Even Liam Kerr was smiling as he made that final comment.
Nine days ago, I met CalMac’s managing director, Robbie Drummond, and director of community and stakeholder engagement, Brian Fulton, to discuss all ferry-related matters. They provided an excellent document, which—contrary to the Tory moanfest that we have heard—pointed to the steady progress that CalMac has made in recent years in delivering Clyde and Hebrides ferry services, in particular services to Arran. CalMac staff are to be commended for their work in achieving that progress.
For example, since the SNP Government introduced road equivalent tariff, which reduced the cost of taking a car to Arran by 64 per cent, there has been a surge in demand. There has been a 66 per cent increase in cars travelling and a 25 per cent increase in passengers, which has helped to boost the Arran economy, creating and sustaining jobs. Last year alone, 847,428 passengers and 204,451 cars travelled to the island. A more efficient use of capacity and an increase in summer sailings this year, with the season being extended from the few weeks that we inherited from Labour and the Lib Dems to more than half the year, have been accompanied by a 29 per cent increase in scheduled sailings over the past eight years.
The breakdown rate on services to and from Arran was 0.5 per cent, or one in 200—that was due to a technical breakdown in 2017-18. Some 2.8 per cent of sailings were affected by inclement weather. One wonders what the number of aviation cancellations and delays is, in comparison.
Of course, whether a passenger from the island is going to a hospital appointment, shopping or just visiting friends on the mainland, it is understandable that they recall the sailing that was cancelled. Efforts to reduce cancellations must therefore be maintained. A £3.5 million resilience fund was established last year and has been increased to £4 million this year, which should improve the situation further.
The Government has invested a massive amount—£255 million—in eight new vessels. The £12.6 million MV Catriona entered service in September 2016 on the Lochranza to Claonaig route. A modern port has been developed at Brodick, representing investment of more than £30 million, and the £35.6 million Ardrossan harbour redevelopment will begin next year. Such investment will improve resilience and the passenger experience and will result in fewer disruptions. Does anyone seriously expect us to believe that the Tories, who have cut billions in capital from Scotland’s budget, would have done more for Arran, Cumbrae or any other Scottish island?
At CalMac, customer communication is improving, with a 92 per cent customer satisfaction rating. A new ticketing system, which is planned for 2021, will improve the customer experience, and an integrated operations control centre has been established to provide customers with more detailed and timely information. Indeed, CalMac’s contact centre was awarded a CCA Global level 7 award for customer service—and CalMac is the only company in the world to have achieved that accolade.
Recently of course, we had the linkspan breakdowns at Ardrossan and Gourock, about which I have questioned the minister. They are the direct result of underinvestment in infrastructure by Peel Ports in the two and a half decades since privatisation—by the Tories, of course.
Challenges lie ahead. Although I am delighted that the next ferries plan will be taken forward following the finalisation of the national transport strategy and in parallel with the strategic transport projects review, renewal of the fleet is urgent. Vessels are ageing—eight are more than 30 years old—and I point out that two Lib Dem transport ministers in the coalition Administration did absolutely nothing to build vessels.
For reasons of reliability, flexibility and cost, I urge the Scottish Government to consider a sustained construction programme, with only two or at most three types of vessel. An approach whereby every vessel is uniquely designed to suit only one or two ports leads to costly delay.
We will take no lectures from the Tory transport spokesperson, who in 2016 lodged a parliamentary motion calling for the retention of the non-existent Ardrossan to Troon ferry service and who appears to want Ferguson Marine to shut rather than be in public hands, regardless of the employment issues.
In the northern isles, we are dependent on our ferry links. I have used them since I was a child. We have seen different operators come and go; there have been some areas of improvement, but services have also come under increasing pressure. Today, I will focus on the publicly supported services in Orkney and Shetland: the northern isles ferry service, which is operated by NorthLink Ferries, and the interisland internal ferries that are operated within their areas by Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council.
I turn first to the internal ferries. As early as 2012, the Scottish Government said that it recognised the unfairness of the situation, in which costs fell to the local authorities. By summer 2014, in the middle of that year’s referendum campaign, the then First Minister Alex Salmond was trying to win support in the northern isles. He told all who would listen that the SNP would bring about fair funding
“in the provision of ferries and ferry infrastructure”.
Two years later, in 2016, a working group was established to consider how to deliver that promised fair funding—work that should have been done years before.
Meanwhile, island representatives worked together, relentlessly pressing ministers. In response, the SNP Government obfuscated and quibbled until, eventually able to bluster no more and under the weight of pressure from island politicians of all political colours, it delivered a one-off payment to both councils. However, that was not the long-term, sustainable commitment that the islands needed. The figure that was settled on then, which met the financial asks of the council then, does not meet the needs of those services now. Therefore, year after year, the island councils are forced to make the case to be allocated the fair funding settlement that, so many years ago, the Scottish Government and, at election after election, SNP candidates promised.
That is despite the our islands, our future campaign, which resulted in this Parliament passing the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018, which required the creation of a national islands plan by the Scottish Government. However, despite its lengthy discussions about fairness and parity, there was not a single commitment on the fair funding of those lifeline ferry services.
The current instability and uncertainty over the future settlement are causing concern in our islands, and that is before we talk about the impending need to replace vessels, which Liam McArthur highlighted.
I turn to the northern isles ferry service—the main service that connects Orkney and Shetland with the Scottish mainland. Again, it is a story of promises made, promises made again—and again—and then delayed and delayed again.
The Scottish Government promised us lower fares but, instead of those fares being implemented in the middle of 2018 as promised, there was piecemeal implementation for Shetland and nothing for Orkney.
The cabinet secretary will have a chance to respond later.
The delay was blamed on issues around compliance with EU state aid rules. That case would have been more reasonable if ministers had engaged with the ferry operators at an earlier stage. Instead, we got a legal dispute. The routes have recently been retendered, which was an opportunity to set the future direction of the service. Instead, we got a vague threat of nationalisation, which local people do not want. That was followed by a tendering process in which many of the issues that islanders are most concerned about—cost and availability of cabins, service reliability, freight capacity and the availability of suitable replacements when boats are on refit—have not been addressed.
If it seems as though the Scottish Government is making it up as it goes along, that is probably because it is. As Liam Kerr highlighted, we lack a strategic view on the future of our ferries and on how we connect our island communities, not just for now but for the years ahead. Without that, the Scottish Government’s warm words around sustainability of island communities become meaningless.
Scotland’s ferries provide lifeline links with our islands and other remote communities. They keep some of those communities sustainable. They make island life in the 21st century possible, but they have been neglected by an SNP Administration that does not have a comprehensive plan. It is better at making promises to the islands than it is at delivering them.
I remind members that my wife works part time for CalMac.
I will touch on the Scottish Government amendment, part of the Labour amendment and the Conservative motion. It will come as no surprise that most of my comments will be focused on Ferguson Marine and the issue of shipbuilding. I support the Scottish Government’s actions in stepping in to save the yard. Make no mistake—the yard was going into administration. The Scottish Government needed to step in to save the jobs and to help my constituency and my community. It also needed to save shipbuilding for the future and to complete the two CMAL vessels, as well as the other three vessels that are under construction.
When I am out and about in my constituency, I get the same message from constituents, which is, “Thank you to the Scottish Government. Thank you for saving this shipyard.” The Tories are laughing—if they do not want to save jobs, that is entirely up to them. The yard was going to shut.
My constituents know that the Scottish Government stands up for them, in comparison with the heartless Tories, whose record on shipbuilding, including in Inverclyde, is there for all to see: yards were shut, thousands of people were paid off, and people were forced to get on their bikes to go and find employment. There was also depopulation—and the list goes on and on.
Jamie Greene should know better, as he is from Inverclyde. Some of his public comments have been quite bizarre, and they do not reflect the history of what his party has inflicted on the Inverclyde area. I will give members just a couple of Mr Greene’s quotes. On 10 August, on the back of the Ferguson situation, Mr Greene commented:
“The blame for this fiasco lies solely at the feet of the SNP government who have recklessly mismanaged this contract”
—“the SNP government who have recklessly mismanaged this contract, wasted hundreds of millions of pounds”,
blah, blah, blah.
On 2 October, Mr Greene said:
“They are responsible for the mess the yard is in and they should have let it flourish in the private sector.”
When Mr Greene speaks later in the debate, will he tell the Parliament how, given those two key points—
“recklessly mismanaged this contract” and
“should have let it flourish in the private sector
—the Government could have mismanaged the contract if the yard was in the private sector? [
Hold on. Secondly, if the yard was flourishing in the private sector, how was the contract mismanaged? I will be keen to hear Mr Greene’s comments—[
No—I have only four minutes.
I will be happy to hear from Mr Greene later. That is not a problem at all.
Inverclyde knows that the Scottish Government is standing up for the area, unlike the Tories, whose political legacy is not one to be cherished. The Ferguson yard is saved. The Tories do not want to hear that, but the yard is saved, the jobs are saved, and the five vessels that are currently under construction will be finished, including the two CMAL vessels.
My constituents genuinely want the Ferguson shipyard to remain for many more years to come. I want there to be a longer-term strategy to ensure that it gets the throughput of more vessels to be built at the yard. I thank the GMB union for its support in ensuring that the yard would be saved. The workforce at the yard certainly do not trust the Tories, and they never will trust the Tories, but they thank the Scottish Government for the work that it has done to save their jobs.
The Government’s record on providing ferry services has been abysmal. When the Loch Seaforth was built for the Stornoway to Ullapool route, the community wanted two smaller boats. That would have enabled more sailings in the summer and provided cover throughout the fleet in the winter for dry-dock maintenance. Instead, the Government gave the community one large vessel that does not provide sufficient capacity in the summer and sails half empty in the winter. The design also appears to be flawed, in that the cooling system left the flagship floundering in the Minch during the summer. The Loch Seaforth is a beautiful boat that can berth only in Stornoway, Ullapool or Oban. Therefore, if there is a problem in Stornoway harbour, it cannot operate at all. The community view has turned out to be right, and the Scottish Government’s view to be wrong.
Islands have been all but cut off by ferry breakdowns, which has caused huge inconvenience to our island communities. The people in Barra gave up and held a ceilidh on the pier instead. There is not enough capacity in the system to deal with breakdowns, or indeed with routine maintenance; that leads to inappropriate ferries on routes that they were not designed for, which leads in turn to more cancellations due to weather, because the ferries cannot cope. That problem arises especially in winter weather conditions—and winter is the time when most routine maintenance takes place. That is why many of the cancellations are down to the weather. We need boats that are fit for purpose on the routes at that time of year.
The Government brought in the RET, which is another flagship policy, but did so without providing any additional capacity. The very policy that was put in place to help islanders has had the effect of shutting them out of ferries. People who are travelling at short notice cannot get a place on the boat to make their journeys. People who need to get to hospital, to visit sick relatives and indeed to attend funerals find themselves unable to travel. Port staff do their utmost to help, but most people are now routed through a centralised call centre and so do not get to speak to them directly. The ferries are old and so break down, and there is no additional capacity on routes in the summer. Someone needs to measure all that unmet need. How can we plan ferry services for the future if we do not know the needs that are currently going unmet?
I turn to the MV Glen Sannox and hull 802 vessels, which the Government boasts about in its amendment. However, those two ferries are nearly two years overdue, and nowhere in its amendment does the Government provide dates for their completion. There needs to be an inquiry into that fiasco. Rumours abound about what has gone wrong; if they are to be believed, it appears that those vessels represent yet more vanity projects by the Scottish Government. Their design was not signed off and was subject to multiple changes. The fuel system is so innovative that it is rumoured to be highly inappropriate: it does not work even for the short journeys that are involved for those ferries and so will not provide the cut in carbon emissions that is sought. What on earth is going on? You could not make it up. It appears that the existence of such vanity projects means that Scottish taxpayers are paying much more than they need to for the new ferries that we desperately need.
None of this situation is the fault of the workforce at Ferguson’s, whose expertise is world renowned; it is down to the Scottish Government’s mismanagement. We now see delays happening on the northern isles ferry contract, too. Again, the Scottish Government appears to have shut out the lowest bidder. There are also concerns about capacity in the northern isles. They produce the bulk of our fish and a large amount of livestock, which means seasonal variations in freight needs. Will any of those needs be met? The cost of a cabin for the long journey to Shetland is prohibitive. People need to be comfortable when they travel such a distance, and the provision of that comfort should not depend on their ability to pay.
All that our island communities want are ferries and ferry services that are fit for purpose, meet their needs and are affordable.
As other members have said, it is impossible to overestimate the importance to my island constituency and others of CalMac and the services that it provides. Everything in the island economies depends, in one way or another, on its vessels.
It is true that not everything is as it should—or could—be with our ferry services. However, in the past decade, we have seen many improvements. I am afraid that that is a fact about which Mr Greene seems to be unaware. As Mr Gibson said, the introduction of RET was revolutionary. We have come a long way from the days when the Western Isles MP Donald Stewart was a lonely voice in the House of Commons when he advocated it. The present Scottish Government has doubled, in real terms, the amount of money that is invested in ferry services. That has been necessary to deal with the previous decade of chronic underinvestment, during which, as other members have pointed out, virtually no major vessels were built.
However, there are challenges, which it would be remiss of me not to mention. Compared with the figures from a decade ago, ferries to the Western Isles now deal with an astonishing 184,000 additional passenger journeys every year. The number of visitors that we now host in May is typically what we would previously have expected to see in July, which is a good thing. It is also a fantastic tribute to the work that the tourist industry and others have done in making the Western Isles a must-visit destination for a huge range of tourists.
That obviously puts strain on the network, the negative effects of which are felt predominantly by islanders who are trying to get on and off the islands at short notice. Although local people are able to live with that on a few busy weekends, it is asking too much for them to accept it for the whole of the summer. It is clear that we need more capacity on routes to the Western Isles. We also need to listen to what islanders say about how to deal with capacity issues in the short term. Over the summer there were calls for measures such as reserving space for islanders or introducing staggered bookings, and it is right that CalMac should explore the feasibility of introducing those.
Meanwhile, the minister will be aware that one of the major issues that came out of the Uist ferry summit, which I hosted last year and at which he spoke, was the urgent need for CalMac to overhaul its ageing booking system, which regularly shows vessels as being full when they are not. I was encouraged to hear about progress on that front, so I would be grateful for any further information that the minister is able to provide today.
In the longer term, there are no easy solutions. The idea—I appreciate that it is a radical one—that some of CalMac’s routes could ultimately be replaced by tunnels is becoming more realistic as time goes on. It is certainly not a cheap option or one that is suitable for every route, but no option is cheap when it is looked at over the long term. It is worth while to look for lessons from other places, not least the Faroe Islands, and to have an open debate on the subject from time to time in this place.
Ultimately, everyone agrees that more capacity is needed on our island ferry routes. However, we should not be prepared to take lessons on the subject from the Conservative Party, whose interest in it is so fleeting that not a single mention of CalMac or indeed ferries was made in its most recent Holyrood manifesto. Indeed, a word search—I accept that it is only a word search—of all Tory manifestos that I can see since devolution in 1999 produces only two mentions of ferries, and one of them, in 2011, was to speculate where savings might be made in the provision of ferry services. That probably speaks for itself.
That is 30 seconds gone already. [
The debate has, at least in some contributions, recognised the frustrations of our island communities about the impact of the lack of capacity and resilience in Scotland’s ageing ferry fleet. It has highlighted the desperate need for a long-term ferry-building programme that details the Government’s plans for fleet and port replacement and upgrades over the next 30 years or so. That plan needs to deliver a better, more reliable service for Scotland’s island communities and it must deliver certainty for the shipbuilding sector to secure the jobs and skills of our shipyards and their workforces. Such a strategic approach has been sorely missing. As a result, we have an ageing fleet with vessels requiring more and more maintenance, and a shipbuilding industry and workforce with no long-term view of their pipeline of work. That desperately needs to change.
Beyond that badly needed ferries plan, it is clear that there are also shortcomings in how the Government procures new ferries. The failings are exposed by the current delays to the delivery of the two new hybrid ferries—we still do not have a schedule for when they will be completed—and the decision to replace the MV Isle of Lewis with one large ship rather than two small vessels, as highlighted by Rhoda Grant.
Rhoda Grant and Alasdair Allan also highlighted the need for a new approach to capacity management. It is not enough for ferries to run on time if people cannot buy tickets to get on to them. We need to end the situation where ferries are fully booked months in advance and, in effect, become closed off to local residents who rely on them.
The introduction of road equivalent tariff fares on the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services improved affordability and provided a welcome boost to passenger numbers, but it was not accompanied by the planning or investment that were needed to help to meet the increased demand. The growing number of passengers travelling to the islands is positive, but it must not come at the expense of the local communities who rely on the services.
Some 18 months after RET fares were meant to be introduced on the northern isles ferry services, it is still not clear whether passengers on them will ever benefit from those fares. When, or if, they are introduced, we must ensure that the necessary capacity is put in place to meet the increased demand.
This debate has shown the need to view our lifeline ferry services as a public service—and, like all other public services, they need to be accessible. Labour believes that the lifeline ferry services should be in public ownership. On the Clyde and Hebrides routes, CalMac has provided value for money, and despite the clear challenges that it faces, it and its workforce deliver for our island communities daily. It is therefore disappointing that the Scottish Government decided against directly awarding the northern isles ferry services contract to a public sector operator.
One of the consequences of the Government’s approach has been to fail to fully protect and enhance working conditions. During the current northern isles ferry services contract, the MV Arrow from Seatruck Ferries Ltd was chartered in order to meet growing freight demand on the route. As part of that, subcontracted staff were paid not only less than the living wage, but less than the national minimum wage. That must be prevented in future contracts.
I point out to the member that we have tried very hard, with the operator and the owner of the vessel, to change that. We even offered, on a bespoke basis, to pay the living wage. Unfortunately, that was not possible, or rather it was deemed not to be possible by the operator. We have the additional difficulty that, without the devolution of employment law to Scotland, we cannot legislate to make that a requirement. I will, however, certainly keep the member posted on that.
I listened to what the minister said, but the reality is that he has just renewed that contract in order to, in effect, continue to have in place a lower standard of workers’ rights for those people if any ferry services are required to be subcontracted. Surely that situation should have been avoided when it came to awarding that particular contract. We should have put in place the capacity to ensure that we did not have to subcontract those services because of growing freight demand on that particular route.
I have asked the minister on more than one occasion to give me a guarantee that all staff, including subcontractors, on the new northern isles ferry services will be covered by a collective bargaining agreement. It seems, from what the minister has said today, that that will not be the case. The Government has been very keen to point out on numerous occasions that the fair work framework applies to those contracts. However, we must be clear that the framework definitely needs strengthened, because we are unable to guarantee collective bargaining for all the workforces, in particular those that are subcontracted. The Government really needs to start to address that issue when it comes to award those contracts.
I have used up my five minutes, so I will finish here. We need action from the Government, not only to improve how ferries are run by bringing lifeline services into public hands but on the way in which investment projects are planned, procured and managed, by creating a long-term strategy for our ferries and the necessary ferry-building plan to support that strategy.
I will start where I had to finish in my opening remarks because of timing. We are responding to short-term challenges that have arisen in response to feedback from island communities. We have put in place an action plan, not least influenced by a meeting that I had with Kenneth Gibson and Michael Russell and local ferry committees, to better manage what ferry users can expect by way of customer service and information from the ferry operator when services are disrupted. Transport Scotland will work together with ferry operators to get that right for passengers.
Kenneth Gibson and Dr Alasdair Allan raised the issue of the booking system; I think that Colin Smyth also referred to that in passing. To update members, Transport Scotland is fully funding the replacement of the existing system. As part of that, it is in active discussion with CalMac to explore upgrades to bring the current system into line with broader policy aspirations on smart ticketing. CalMac has already started a procurement process by issuing a notice in the
Official Journal of the European Union at the end of September. Following on from that, the company will be issuing an invitation to tender in the next few months. It is expected that a preferred bidder will have been identified by summer 2020, and the project will subsequently be fully rolled out over the following couple of years.
I appreciate that that is not a quick process. I hope that members understand that procurement, by its nature, has to be done in a formal way. I reassure Dr Allan and Mr Gibson that we are taking that forward as a high priority.
A number of members have talked about CalMac. For balance, I will say this. During the past 12 months, CalMac has picked up some of the most prestigious awards. In 2018, the company won the ferry operator of the year award at the national transport awards. On customer service—as Mr Gibson mentioned—CalMac’s customer service centre made it the first company in the UK to be measured against and awarded the new global accreditation standard by the Customer Contact Association. Indeed, the CCA assessor highlighted a number of strengths in the team, describing it as
“a competent, well managed, highly customer focused operation.”
I think—and this is reflected in Labour’s amendment—that we should never lose sight of the fact that the hard-working team that works at CalMac, along with the team at NorthLink, provide an excellent service. Over the nine-month period from January to September this year, 97.2 per cent of Serco NorthLink passengers surveyed rated the service as excellent or good. Surely to goodness we in this chamber should reflect on good practice when it is delivered rather than criticising services, as seems to be the case today.
I did not have time earlier to address Jamie Greene’s opening remarks. It is simply wrong to say that pressure on the network is greatest in the winter months. The greatest period of pressure and overstretch is during the summer months, when passenger numbers soar and—as other members have noted—are fuelled by RET. This is the time of year when it is deemed to be most convenient to carry out the annual maintenance schedule.
Jamie Greene’s interpretation of the data that I quoted is also wrong. I re-emphasise that we are talking about 0.67 per cent of all trips being cancelled for technical reasons. I think that he slightly misinterpreted the figure that I gave.
Mr Gibson will know well the difficulties of the solution that Mr Greene proposed to tackle the Arran situation, which displayed that he did not understand the issues regarding the different vessels, routes and conditions. I would rather leave it to the ships’ masters to decide on the suitable solution for that situation.
On points that other members made, Jamie Halcro Johnston and Colin Smyth referred to RET. I did not get the chance to intervene on Mr Halcro Johnston, but I point out that we cannot implement RET on the northern isles ferry services at present, although it is still our policy to implement it eventually. There is an outstanding state aid complaint on the matter and I hope that members understand that we cannot force forward RET in the absence of a decision from the European Commission. Unfortunately, the Tories are just playing games on that matter.
Mr McArthur and Mr Halcro Johnston raised the issue of internal ferry services. I point out for Mr Halcro Johnston’s benefit in particular that the Tories are responsible for the situation that has arisen in the isles, because it was a Conservative Administration back in the 1980s that decided to carve out internal ferry services and have a separate arrangement for them. Ironically, given the context of Brexit, that decision was made in order to attract European funding.
I am used to coming to the chamber and having back-bench SNP members blame us for absolutely everything going back many years. However, the minister is aware that his Government has been in power and responsible for transport in Scotland for 12 years. I can assure him that what he suggested about responsibility will get no response in the islands.
That was a tremendously interesting contribution. The member made a point about the difficult situation in which the isles find themselves, but they are in that place because of Conservative ministers in the 1980s. To bring in our colleagues in the Liberal Democrats on this point, I should also mention that two Liberal Democrat transport ministers, as Kenneth Gibson highlighted, not only did not invest in vessels to the extent that we have, but took no action to address the situation. It is this SNP Government that is working with the island authorities to try to address what is a long-term issue. We have a working group to develop the business case. 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.
On Rhoda Grant’s points about the MV Loch Seaforth, it is our fastest and most reliable vessel. Yes, there was the incident to which Rhoda Grant referred, but I hope that she recognises that the vessel has provided an extremely good service for the communities of the Western Isles since it entered service. We are looking at how we can adapt service provision to address the capacity issue to which Rhoda Grant referred. The MV Loch Seaforth is a good addition to the fleet and is providing a sterling service for the Western Isles.
John Finnie made some excellent points about the history of trust ports, the degree to which privatisation has had a bearing on our need to invest in ports, the importance of lifeline ferry services and the lack of investment between 2001 and 2011. I appreciate that the SNP Government covered part of that period, but we are trying to address the long-term need to reinvest in our fleet. I assure members that that is very much part of our plans. As I said, development of the ferries plan is under way and we are looking at options to invest in our fleet.
It has been a good and interesting debate, but I encourage members to recognise the tremendous progress that has been made this year. Indeed, in its follow-up report in September, Audit Scotland did exactly that.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute again to a debate on the very important issue of ferries, because it affects so many of my constituents across the Highlands and Islands. I say “contribute again”, because we have debated ferries several times recently, and it is hugely regrettable that we have to revisit an issue that is fast becoming a scandal that should shame the Scottish Government.
Like my colleagues who spoke earlier in the debate, I will focus on some specific issues as well as the broader discussion. For too long, people across the Highlands and Islands and other parts of Scotland have endured ferry services that are wholly unreliable and have little flexibility built in. As my colleague Jamie Greene noted in his speech, and as is noted in our motion for the debate, 82,000 delays and cancellations have occurred since 2007. That is a lamentable statistic that should concern everyone in the chamber, not least because more than 100,000 people who live in our island communities rely on those ferry services to connect to the mainland. They are lifeline services for local people, vital to many businesses for transmitting goods and the main mode of transport for tourists to visit our islands. However, despite the clear need and demand for a reliable and robust ferry network, the SNP Government has failed miserably to rise to the challenge. There are many reasons why it has failed to do so.
We still see innumerable problems with our service. I have made the point before, but it is worth noting again, that, in its submission to the previous ferry review in 2010, CalMac said that the Government would have to build a new ferry every year just to stand still. However, we now face a situation in which the two new ferries that are on order are in limbo; if they are completed, they will be definitely late and almost certainly over budget. Of the existing fleet of ferries, almost 50 per cent are beyond their 25-year life expectancy, meaning that they are at significant risk of mechanical failures and breakdowns.
Despite repeated warnings over a number of years, the SNP Government has failed to act, and we are now in the middle of a ferry crisis. It is our residents, communities and businesses that suffer: from the young woman trying to catch the ferry from Dunoon to see her sick parent in Glasgow to the dairy farmer from Bute trying to get his produce to a processor on the mainland and the hotelier on Lewis who has to cancel bookings because the only ferry service is oversubscribed. Those are just a few examples of the many cases that I have dealt with since becoming an MSP. Often, there is little that I can do because, despite warm words from various ministers over the years, people see little material difference in many of our ferry services, and some services are getting worse.
An issue that has dominated my postbag since my election to the Parliament is the ferry service between Dunoon and Gourock town centres. Many people remain unhappy that the service never underwent a full tendering process after the contract with Argyll Ferries expired. Many are unhappy that the same unreliable vessels are still being used to this day. Despite it being the newest service on CalMac’s books, it is the single worst performing service, with 995 cancelled sailings between January and September this year—that is almost 1,000 cancellations in nine months. It has accounted for more than a quarter of all of CalMac’s cancelled sailings so far this year.
Sorry—I have had to move desk.
There has been an increase in passenger traffic of more than 3 per cent this year, which I hope that Donald Cameron is interested to hear about and welcomes. He will know that the Gourock to Dunoon service, which we have set out plans to invest in, suffers badly from the vessels not being ideally suited to the conditions. I fully acknowledge that and we are committed to addressing it. However, weather-related matters account for a large number of the cancellations on the Gourock to Dunoon route.
Even if they are related to the weather, that does not excuse the fact that the number of cancellations and delays is increasing.
As other members said, the Gourock linkspan has been out of action due to a fault, which has had knock-on effects for other services. Therefore, it is easy to understand why people in Dunoon and the Cowal peninsula are so exasperated with the service.
Another example that has been raised with me on several occasions is the issue of overcapacity on the Stornoway to Ullapool service. Many residents on Lewis are forced to plan ahead and book spaces to travel to the mainland due to space being booked up well in advance. Visitors also struggle to book on to the ferry, such is the demand during peak season. A constituent who runs a hotel on the west side of Lewis told me that she regularly has bookings cancelled due to people being unable to get on the ferry, which means a significant loss of income.
Those are merely two examples out of a catalogue of failings.
I turn to remarks made by colleagues in the chamber. A point made by the minister and other members was that we all recognise and thank the staff of the ferry services for their contribution. In my experience, the staff of CalMac, which runs the ferries that I travel on most often, are always highly professional.
I listened to Alasdair Allan speak about tunnels, and it is interesting that tunnels are being talked about more and more. However, I was disappointed to hear him question the good faith of members on the Conservative benches when raising the issue of ferries. Several of us represent the Highlands and Islands, several of us represent the west of Scotland and several of us represent the north-east, and we are just as entitled to raise issues about ferries as he is.
I listened in amazement to Kenneth Gibson and the minister, who seemed to blame everyone else—including the Liberal Democrat transport minister, Chris Grayling, and the Labour Party—except the very Government that has run our ferry system for the past 12 years.
We are in the midst of a significant ferry crisis. Our ferry network has been badly let down by an SNP Government. It is aging, inflexible and unreliable, and local people are fed up with excuses. They want real action, and I hope that members support our motion today.
I will stop you right there, because I am one of those people who will tell you that that is not a point of order. Where there is statement with which you disagree, you can check the
Official Report and bring the point up at another time, but it is not a point of order. I am not responsible for what members say.
I am telling you what I have said. I am not inclined to take this any further. It is just not a point of order—end of story. Please sit down.
Where was I? I have completely lost track of what I was doing.
That concludes the debate on the resilience of Scotland’s ferry network.
We must move on to the next item of business. I will let members take their seats. I do not want to waste time, because there will be interventions in the next debate.
I am sorry that Mr McArthur has left. [
.] He is just over there. I want to clarify what he can do. I make it clear that his point is not a point of order—I hold to that statement—but, if relevant, he can pursue the point in written questions and follow-up questions or by lodging motions for debate, raising the matter in the media or writing to the members concerned. It is not a point of order for the chair. There are remedies—
I am speaking from the chair. I am the Presiding Officer. I am telling you that your point is also not a point of order, so please sit down.
Can we move on, because we are—
Thank you, Presiding Officer. It is very important that we have procedures in this Parliament that are consistent right across the board. I am very happy with the ruling that you have made. I am seeking a ruling from the chair—
I can discuss what you have said with the other Presiding Officers. I know where you are going. I do not want to waste time for the next debate. The issue raised by Mr McArthur was not a point of order. Everyone in the chamber has been told that each time, but it happens over and over again.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. If your ruling lasts, but then there is inconsistency from the chair, members will simply wait until decision time to raise the same point of order again and we will get nowhere. Consistency is important.