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

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Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

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.

The Times reported on 2 May that Chris Grayling, the then Tory UK transport secretary, had “wasted £83 million” on non-existent—