The islands connectivity plan will replace the ferries plan by the end of 2022. It will be developed in the context of the recently published national transport strategy and our national islands plan, both of which align with the Scottish Government’s purpose and national outcomes. The plan will link to the emerging strategic transport projects review, and it will have regard to aviation, ferries and fixed links, as well as connecting and onward travel. It will include a long-term programme of investment in vessels and ports, which will be developed with the support of the £580 million of ferries investment over the next five years that was announced in the Scottish Government’s infrastructure and investment plan.
Consideration will be given to replacing ferry routes with other forms of connectivity and connection, such as fixed links. That will be taken forward through the work under the strategic transport projects review which, as I indicated in my initial answer, will feed into the islands connectivity plan, which we will seek to implement by the end of 2022. I can engage with the member if he has specific proposals, but that is the structure and process that we will undertake.
That is obviously a very important question, which follows on from the inquiry work of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. We are already undertaking an analysis of the future pipeline of ferries, and there is a timescale for immediate projects such as the work that is under way on the Islay vessels and the discussions that are taking place with communities affected by the Gourock to Dunoon and Kilcreggan routes on the replacement vessels for them. We have a small vessel replacement programme under development, with a further eight vessels that are likely to be developed. There is a programme to decarbonise vessels and switch them to alternative propulsion systems.
Rather than give a long answer now, I can provide further details to Mr Simpson about the work that is under way, which is a core part of the islands connectivity plan and the vessel replacement and deployment plan.
I thank the minister for that encouraging update.
The minister will be aware of the pressing and urgent need for the replacement of the ageing internal ferry fleet in Orkney. Can he confirm that that will be laid out in the plan? Does he share the view of some of his colleagues, who have suggested that the lack of progress so far on that issue is due to “a lack of vision” from the current and previous leadership of Orkney Islands Council?
I would not want to comment on the leadership of
Orkney Islands Council. Obviously, I have a good relationship with Councillor Stockan and his team, who have been working very closely with Transport Scotland to outline their investment needs. I had a very productive discussion recently with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Kate Forbes, and the leaders of Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council on funding for internal ferry services. I assure Mr McArthur that we are very much aware of the need for investment in those areas, particularly in Orkney, where there is a substantial backlog of investment, as he may recall. However, we are actively taking forward those matters, and I do not want to prejudge the outcome of those discussions, although I can say that they have been very constructive so far.