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Ferries

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

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Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

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.