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Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 6th November 2019.

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Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

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maintenance costs to skyrocket by more than 150 per cent over the past 10 years, meaning that more vessels are being withdrawn for longer for extra maintenance, which is a point that the Government’s amendment ignores.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.”