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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

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.”