Ferry Services

– in the Scottish Parliament on 17th November 2021.

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Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

5. To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to improve ferry services to island communities. (S6O-00384)

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

Our £580 million investment in ports and vessels that was announced in February will support and improve Scotland’s ferry services over the next five years. As part of our wider infrastructure investment plan, we continue to work constructively with partners and key stakeholders to progress a sustainable and efficient fleet replacement programme. I note the recent purchase of the MV Utne, which I am pleased to tell the chamber has arrived in Scotland and will shortly begin her fit-out. Of course, we continue to look at opportunities to bring other second-hand tonnage into the fleet to improve reliability and availability.

Engagement with stakeholders to develop detailed deployment, cascade and related timetables for the 2022 summer season continues.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

The minister will be aware of a number of cancellations due to crew testing positive with Covid-19, which obviously occur at short notice. What steps is the Scottish Government considering to minimise the risk of ferry cancellations in the event of positive Covid cases among crews over the winter months, when infections are high and are likely to rise and when ferries already face disruption due to weather?

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

The member makes a fair point. I am pleased to say that I had discussions just yesterday with Caledonian MacBrayne management on that matter. She will appreciate that the primary consideration when something like that happens is, of course, the health and wellbeing of the crews and the need to take essential measures. However, we are actively looking at whether we can assist CalMac with speeding up the testing procedure and also with aspects such as deep cleaning to minimise disruption to vessels.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I am not at all surprised that there is considerable interest in the issue of ferries. A number of members want to ask supplementary questions. I hope to get through as many of them as possible, so I ask for brief questions and answers.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

The Lochranza to Claonaig ferry route is vital to the Isle of Arran, not least when the ferry from Brodick to Ardrossan cannot sail, but in the winter it is replaced by a once-a-day service to and from Tarbert. What steps will the minister take to extend and enhance that vital service?

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

I am aware of the request from Arran stakeholder groups to extend the winter timetable between Lochranza and Claonaig. However, as Mr Gibson is aware, that request has been considered several times by CalMac Ferries and Transport Scotland. I assure him that it was considered in great detail, but it is simply not possible to operate a reliable service in the winter due to the nature of the slipway at Claonaig.

CalMac has also looked closely at the request to provide more sailings from Tarbert to Lochranza but, again, as Mr Gibson will know, any such deliberations need to factor in the benefits set against the disbenefits for affected populations. In this case, more sailings from Tarbert to Lochranza would mean reducing the Tarbert to Portavadie timetable, which would be problematic for regular users of that service, who include children and young people who use it to get to and from school.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

We learned today that full lifeline ferry services to Harris and Uist will not be reinstated next summer. The Isle of Harris transport forum says that that could cost the island £3 million a year in lost business and that it wants a meeting with the minister. Will he commit to meeting it and reinstating the full ferry service?

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

I met the Isle of Harris transport forum a few months ago and I understand entirely the concerns that it has on the subject. My officials are currently engaging with CalMac to see whether it is possible to arrive at a compromise on the issue. The costs that are involved in providing a full service, in terms of using the mezzanine deck and having full weekly services, are prohibitive. However, we are keen to see whether we can find a compromise, and my officials will engage directly on that.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

As the minister indicated, CalMac is consulting on two options for the Uig triangle timetable that have no additional cost implications but would result in less capacity than in previous years. Given how busy the route is in the summer months, can any consideration be given to alternative options that would see an increase rather than a decrease in capacity?

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

That is happening at the moment. Mr Allan wrote to me earlier this week and one of the suggestions that he made is being considered as a possibility.

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

Will the Scottish Government commit to expanding the free bus travel scheme to internal ferries for under-22s in island communities, because they rely on ferries in the same way that their mainland counterparts rely on buses?

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

As the member knows, responsibility for interisland ferries lies with local authorities. However, all fares for ferries and others form part of the forthcoming fair ferries review.

Photo of Emma Roddick Emma Roddick Scottish National Party

The purchase of the MV Utne in October is the latest instalment in a series of investments that the Scottish National Party has made in our ferry services, vessels and infrastructure since 2007. Despite the vessel reportedly being earmarked for the Oban to Craignure run, will the minister detail how other island communities will benefit from that addition to the CalMac fleet?

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

I am delighted to say that the Utne arrived in Scotland this week, and I look forward to seeing her enter service. She is earmarked for the Oban to Craignure route, which will enable a year-round commutable service from Mull alongside the larger vessel that serves Oban to Craignure customers. The potential additional benefits for the introduction include the return of the MV Coruisk to the Mallaig to Armadale route, improving the service frequency and freeing the MV Lord of the Isles to operate solely on the Mallaig to Lochboisdale route. With the addition of the Utne, fleet resilience during dry-dock periods will also be improved.