” programme, entitled “The Great Ferries Scandal”. We learned some very worrying things about the way in which ferries 801 and 802 were bought. Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd broke its own tender rules, which say that there has to be a refund guarantee from bidders. There was not.
Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow) Ltd received a 424 page report to help its bid; a key section of its bid appears to have been cut and pasted from that. Ferguson
’s was allowed to change its design and change its price after the deadline, and it received a confidential in-person meeting. Nobody else got that treatment—and all the while, CalMac Ferries Ltd thought a rival bid was better.
In short, it appears that Ferguson’s became an inside-track shoo-in for the job, unbeknown to any other bidder. Ferguson’s received special treatment from the Government, which was desperate to award the contract to the yard—and we know how that ended up.
Yesterday, John Swinney told us that the vital documents cannot be found, and he said that it will be left to the Auditor General for Scotland to look into the matter. The Auditor General does a great job, but the Scottish Government should not be hiding behind him on this matter. In any case, it routinely ignores anything that he says. The Scottish Government needs to come clean, and it cannot use those revelations to stall and deflect. The buck stops with ministers—and there are several of them. If CMAL did favours for Ferguson’s, it was because it was told to do so. This goes all the way to the top.
We could call what we saw on the BBC programme last night insider dealing, and it could leave the door open to costly legal action and add to the already astronomical cost of two ferries. Make no mistake— the Scottish National Party’s handling of the matter is a scandal.
However, while the First Minister was on her tour of the Edinburgh fringe festival this summer, we learned that she does not see it that way.
Here is how it went with the respected broadcaster Iain Dale.
You’ve been in power, the party’s been in power, since 2007, that’s ample time for that to have been sorted out. I mean there’s clearly a scandal over how the procurement was managed. Do you take responsibility for that?
I take responsibility for everything that happens in government, whether I like it or not. The buck stops with me on everything. I don’t shy away from that. I take issue with your language there but there’s no point getting into that.
What’s your issue?
Well—‘scandal’. I don’t think it’s a scandal. I think there has been a situation with these two ferries that I don’t think is acceptable and we’re learning lessons from that and focusing on putting that right.”
The First Minister does not think it is a scandal; it is “a situation”. Maybe the “Disclosure Scotland” programme should have been called “The Great Ferries Situation”. It is a scandalous situation, and that means that we need a public inquiry and a police investigation to get to the bottom of it.
If people in the Government knew how to behave properly, heads would roll. Derek Mackay has gone, but so far, nobody has taken the rap. They never do. Remember, though, what the First Minister said:
“the buck stops with me”.
Let us see if that is true.
Derek Mackay says that awarding preferred bidder status was nothing to do with him because he was on holiday. He says that his then boss Keith Brown was responsible. We know that CMAL eventually wanted to retender because of concerns about the lack of a builders refund guarantee from Ferguson’s. We also know that it did not want the preferred bidder status of Ferguson’s to be announced in public. But why get in the way of a good photo op? Announced it was, by who else but the First Minister, on 31 August 2015. Mr Mackay awarded the final contract and accepts his share of the blame. He announced it in another photo op at the SNP conference on 16 October 2015.
Of course, none of that was political. Perish the thought. John Swinney’s mitts are all over this, too. He signed off on the payment, despite knowing that there were concerns.
Meanwhile, the Glen Sannox—the fake-windows ferry that was launched in another photo op by Nicola Sturgeon in 2017—is still not complete, and the 802 is even further behind. Furthermore, a letter today from David Tydeman suggests that there might be even more delays.
So many photos—so little to show for them.
If members want to hear about some more buck passing, they should just listen to what ministers are saying about Ardrossan harbour. That is where the Arran ferry goes to, but the new Arran ferry—when it is eventually finished—will not fit, so work will have to be done to the harbour if the ferry is to dock there. The harbour’s private owners are now getting the blame for the fact that there is no agreement yet on who will pay for that. It is extraordinary; it is always someone else’s fault.
Derek Mackay has, at least, answered some questions, but he is no longer here. John Swinney, Keith Brown and Nicola Sturgeon—who says that the buck stops with her—are here, and it is they who should now walk the plank.
We must also think ahead and decide how we can best run the ferries. I first asked for sight of the project Neptune report in February, but Transport Scotland officials refused to release it until earlier this month. I welcomed its release, but I do not know why they dithered, because it does not tell us anything that we did not know already. We know that the clunky set up involving Transport Scotland, CMAL, CalMac and the minister does not work. It should be streamlined.
There is a mix of ferry services in Scotland: private, council-run, private hired by the Government, and just Government run. It is that last one that has the most problems. So, why rule anything out when we look at how we might run things in the future? Are we really saying that we want the west coast service to remain as one big monopoly, which would rule out council involvement and that of smaller local firms? We cannot let dogma get in the way of public services.
I speak to islanders regularly and hear the same stories every time. It was the same this week when I chatted to islanders from Arran and Mull. I heard about missed appointments, people not able to get to work, kids not getting to school and people moving away because the situation is too stressful. They fear that another winter of chaos, following a summer of chaos, looms. There is chaos upon chaos upon chaos, there is shambles and scandal, and now there is evidence that should merit a police investigation: we might go from the murky depths of the Clyde to a court of law. The situation is beyond shameful and it is islanders who are suffering. That must end—soon. And remember: the buck stops with the First Minister.
That the Parliament welcomes the long-awaited publication of the Project Neptune report on Scotland’s ferries; believes that the report sets out viable alternatives to the current structure, which is not delivering for islanders; calls on the Scottish Government to set out an urgent plan for fleet procurement, manufacturing and operations; notes that the CalMac fleet has become increasingly beset by technical issues and cancellations and that these technical issues are leading to increasingly higher repair costs; further notes that island communities, who have faced significant disruption already, are concerned that a lack of resilience in the fleet could cause further disruption this winter; expresses disappointment that, under latest estimates, vessels 801 and 802 will not be completed until May and December 2023, despite originally being due for completion in May and July 2018, and calls for a public inquiry into the matter.
It was only a few short weeks ago that I made a statement to Parliament confirming publication of the project Neptune report. I made clear my intention to engage with all parties in the chamber. Having noted the detailed findings of that report, all MSPs should now have received an invitation to meet the report’s authors, Ernst &Young.
I also made clear the need for consultation of stakeholders. Next week, I will meet CalMac and CMAL as we begin to develop the options and next steps for reform.
However, crucially—as Mr Simpson alluded to in his speech—our island communities must be part of the reform of governance structures in relation to delivery of ferry services on the Clyde and Hebrides network. Therefore, I am pleased that Angus Campbell, who is currently the chair of the ferries communities board, has agreed to lead our community consultation work on project Neptune’s next steps. I will meet Mr Campbell next week.
In my statement to Parliament, I was clear that things have to improve for our island communities. I know that there is a need for pace on next steps. That must be coupled with respect for the staff involved. I undertook to return to Parliament to debate fully the next steps for project Neptune, and I hope that the consensual tone that was struck in responding to that parliamentary statement will be reflected in contributions today.
As the Conservative motion notes, project Neptune sets out the
“viable alternatives to the current structure”.
I will work with all parties to secure agreement on a streamlined approach that will better deliver for islanders.
I remind Mr Kerr that we have had an inquiry by, I think, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee in the previous parliamentary session and an inquiry by Audit Scotland. We have had project Neptune and we will have inquiries from the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee and the Public Audit Committee.
I would like to conclude my point before Mr Mountain pops up. I understand the point that Mr Kerr is alluding to, but there have been a number of inquiries. In relation to the suggestion that I think Mr Kerr is alluding to, the Auditor General is looking at that in more detail. Therefore, at this time, I think that it would not be appropriate for me to prejudge the outcome of his further deliberations.
First, as the convener of the REC Committee when it produced the report, I can say that the committee certainly was not aware of all the information that is currently being put in the public domain. To say that all that information was available to us and that we could draw conclusions from it is, frankly, wrong.
Secondly, as I understand it, the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee is not going to be looking at the procurement of vessels 801 and 802, but at future procurement of ferries and the ferries plan, which the minister has not updated for a considerable time.
Thank you. That brings me neatly to my next point in relation to investment.
As the motion calls for today, and as Mr Mountain asked for, the Government has committed to a long-term plan for investment in vessels and port infrastructure, which we will publish later this year as a key component of the islands connectivity plan. That will build on the investments that are being delivered in the infrastructure investment plan, which committed to £580 million of investment to provide new vessels and port upgrades.
I will reflect on some of the progress to date. We have secured the MV Loch Frisa and have her operating on the Oban to Mull route. We have been through the procurement process for two new Islay vessels, which will significantly increase capacity on the Islay route and accelerate replacement of the fleet. I am pleased to confirm that we expect the first steel to be cut on those vessels next week—on time and in line with the programme for delivery of those ships. Work is also on-going on replacement vessels for the Isle of Mull, the MV Lord of the Isles and up to seven vessels in the first phase of the small-vessel replacement programme.
However, I know that additional tonnage is needed in the CalMac fleet; we discussed that when I gave my statement to Parliament two weeks ago. Officials are at present urgently prioritising options for ministers; and I hope to be able to say more about that in due course, while noting the commercial sensitivities that are at play.
I have already taken two substantial interventions.
I want to talk to the issue of winter resilience, which is also highlighted in the Conservative motion, because islanders might be anxious about the coming months. In January and February alone this year, 92.75 per cent of cancellations on the Clyde and Hebrides ferry service—CHFS—network were due to the weather or Covid. Therefore, to help to reduce the number of delays and cancellations related to the weather, we have committed to expanding to third-party ports funding for tide and weather monitoring equipment, which is currently in place at CMAL ports.
As part of the consultation on?the islands connectivity plan, measurable performance indicators are also being developed. They will be distinct from contractual targets and will better reflect the real experience of passengers. They will be visible and published targets, against which we can monitor performance, which is hugely important.
It is also worth saying that this year the Government is supporting CalMac to invest an additional £5 million to improve fleet sustainability and to provide a more resilient service for passengers and communities.
Dry dock this year will be extended, which will reduce the level and risk of unplanned disruptions that communities are faced with. CalMac has also made changes to some vessel deployment plans in order to prioritise reliability and improve the quality of the service on certain routes.? For any period of prolonged disruption, I will convene resilience groups with the ferries communities board, CalMac and local partners, as I have done since my appointment in January.
I will come on to talk about the ports for 801 and 802. I know that, today, Ferguson’s has provided an update to the NZET Committee, which the Government will want to respond to in further detail. However, I will now respond to some of the points that Mr Simpson raised in relation to the ports, because they are important.
Ardrossan has not been upgraded because of delays with the private owners of the port. However, that overlooks the significant investment that has taken place to ensure that vessels can operate from upgraded facilities at Troon. Troon has received £3.2 million of Scottish Government support, and it will be secured as an alternative port for the Arran service in the longer term.
In addition, the investments in the ports on the Skye triangle means that they will be ready for 802 following the second closure period for the works at Uig.
Just weeks ago, I spoke of the need for constructive working across the chamber in relation to ferries governance and next steps. We owe it to island businesses, children and young people and everyone else who depends on those lifeline services to get it right. I look forward to hearing suggestions from members today to that end.
I move amendment S6M-06071.2, to leave out from “long-awaited” to end and insert:
“publication of the Project Neptune report on the governance of Scotland’s ferries; notes that ministers are engaging with affected communities, staff and all stakeholders on the options for reform; recognises that over £2 billion has been invested in the support of lifeline ferry services since 2007; welcomes the commitment to publish and consult on a long-term vessel and port investment plan as part of the Islands Connectivity Plan; recognises the concerns of island communities, and that ministers continue to work closely with them during periods of disruption; agrees that ensuring accurate reporting is key to avoiding unnecessary impacts on those economies, and notes the ongoing work to deliver the vessels under construction at Ferguson Marine, the positive relations between management and unions, and the protection of hundreds of jobs at the yard, including supporting over 50 apprentices, along with many more jobs in the supply chain.”
Scotland’s islanders have an unreliable ferry service because Scotland has an unreliable ferry fleet. In relation to the project Neptune report, Scottish Labour welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment not to unbundle the Clyde and Hebrides network and not to privatise it. Therefore, we would welcome further clarification from the minister that there will be no costly tender process because, if there is, privatisation is evidently still possible.
We need a review of governance and structures, but we cannot be—
I would like to make some progress.
We cannot be distracted from the fact that it is the failure to replace an ageing fleet that is the root cause of this ferries fiasco. In the short term, the Scottish Government needs to acquire ferries to help the situation in the here and now and to minimise disruption this winter. The recent statement from the Government on the future of Scottish ferries, which the minister referred to, did not give islanders one single Scottish ferry more. Although I believe that Ukrainian refugees should be housed in homes rather than on ferries, that situation proves that the Scottish Government can charter ferries at short notice. Ferries should have been chartered for Scotland’s islands long before now.
It is islanders, as well as every taxpayer in Scotland, who have been paying the cost of one of the biggest public infrastructure disasters in the past 20 years. We need to fully understand what has gone wrong and set out a plan for the future.
The “Disclosure” documentary that aired on BBC Scotland last night raises very serious questions of illegality in relation to the tender process for the Glen Sannox and vessel 802. One of those questions relates to the copy of the CalMac statement of operational and technical requirements that was provided to Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd by the technical consultancy firm that produced it, which gave FMEL a huge advantage, with FMEL copying and pasting vast chunks of it into its bid.
Given the unfair advantage, we need to know why CMAL and CalMac allowed the bid to be marked highly in the tender scoring rather than immediately halting the tender process at that point or making scoring adjustments. That and many other serious questions must be thoroughly investigated without delay. They must be investigated independently because this Government simply cannot be trusted to investigate itself and its agencies. We need openness and transparency; we cannot afford secrecy and cover-up.
I support Audit Scotland’s efforts to get to the truth. If it chooses to investigate the matter further, it will need full access to all the systems, documents and emails that can help it in that endeavour. The Government should make clear that that will be the case. That has not happened to date—we have had a drip, drip of new emails and documents over the past few months. To date, no one has been held accountable, and the Government’s talk of collective responsibility is meaningless.
I believe that a public inquiry is inevitable but, even now, the Government still refuses to initiate such an inquiry. It should do so this week because the longer it delays, the more it will cost, the longer it will take to get to the truth and the more it will look like the Government has something further to hide.
There is a lot of blame to go round, but the one group of people who remain blameless throughout the fiasco are Ferguson’s workforce.
GMB Scotland’s Alex Logan and John McMunagle provided damning evidence in the “Disclosure” documentary. When concerns were raised, they were told:
“That’s the plan, that’s the drawing. You just build, you’re no here to think. You just build.”
It is clear that the workforce’s concerns were ignored time and time again. Perhaps if their views had been listened to at the beginning, we would not be in the mess that we are in now. That can never happen again. If we want to build a functioning ferry network and support Scottish shipbuilding jobs, we need to listen to them now.
I represent the lower Clyde and many of those workers. I stand behind all those who want to breathe new life into the industry. I again call for a national ferry building replacement programme to support the sector. Scottish Labour’s ambition is to modernise the CalMac fleet, with a fair share of new ferries being built on the lower Clyde. That will bring resilience to our ferry network and create new opportunities for the workforce.
As GMB Scotland has argued, the ferries do not need to be complex and use the dual-fuel ferry designs that Ferguson’s is building. Simpler contracts for simpler ferries do not need to go overseas to places such as Turkey; they can be done easily at Ferguson’s.
We need to get to the bottom of what went wrong to fix the problems in the long term. We need to create a pipeline of work and ensure that the lower Clyde gets its fair share of that work and that islanders get the ferries that they deserve.
I move amendment S6M-06071.1, to insert at end:
“; welcomes the commitment to not unbundle the ferry network, and to maintain the Clyde and Hebrides network under public control; believes that the unreliability and long-term unsustainability issues are contributing to the growing depopulation of the Scottish islands, and further believes that the future procurement of ferries must be used to support Scottish shipbuilding jobs and help restore the reputation of the Ferguson Marine yard.”
I congratulate the minister on getting through her whole speech without once mentioning the enormous elephant in the room: last night’s television documentary.
We were told that everything was published, that the Government was an open book, that there was nothing to hide, that it had investigated every single inch and every dark corner, that there was no corruption here and that critics were exaggerating.
Yet, last night, seven years on—five years after the ferries were supposed to be sailing—and numerous investigations later, the BBC presented quite devastating new information that it had discovered.
Ferguson’s had been given a document that no other bidder had received and it had been allowed to submit a new bid. No one else was allowed to do that. It had a confidential meeting with CMAL. No other bidder was offered that. It was given a pass on the builders guarantee. No other bidder was given that right.
Ferguson’s won the contract on a lower cost and a new lighter design with their new bid, using the document that nobody else had seen and with the advantage of a confidential meeting that no one else was offered.
We saw highlighted page after highlighted page of the bid that copied the document that no one else had seen. Jim McColl from Ferguson’s admitted that he had an advantage. That is the man who the SNP asked to take over Ferguson’s.
However, John Swinney was surprised about the BBC’s new evidence. At his deflecting best, and as if it were nothing to do with him, he said that he took the matter very seriously and, with a scowl, said that the matter would be investigated without delay. That is despite Scottish National Party ministers boasting to their conference that they had awarded the contract to Ferguson’s, despite Nicola Sturgeon turning up at the yard to tell the workers that they still had jobs, and despite ministers—even today—telling us that the yard would not have won the contract without them.
Join the dots. It is simple. The SNP is the reason for the scandal. It did not just happen to be in charge at the time; it caused the chaos. In any normal Government adopting international norms, ministers would resign without delay. Not this Government. According to it, it is everyone else’s fault; it asks how we could doubt ministers; and it says that they were trying their best.
Let us look at what the Government’s best means. It means that the ferries that were supposed to be built five years ago are still stuck in the docks. The best that the nationalists have to offer means wasting £150 million in the middle of a cost of living crisis. For islanders, that means 7,431 cancelled sailings so far this year. Hospital appointments have been missed, children are missing school, and shops and businesses are missing supplies.
Its best means that the reputation of the good workers at a Scottish shipyard has been trashed—so trashed that the yard did not even bid for the next ferry contract. That ferry contract has been awarded to a yard in Turkey. Its best means Audit Scotland stating that there was a
“lack of transparent decision making”.
Its best means a new investigation by Audit Scotland into the evidence that was presented by the BBC last night. Its best means launching a ferry with painted windows on the sides. If that is the Government’s best, please save us from its worst.
We cannot carry on like this any more. Whatever the outcome of the BBC investigation, everyone has seen enough. Taxpayers’ funding has been wasted.
Mr Rennie! Mr Rennie, please take a seat.
Mr Rennie, I asked you to bring your remarks to a conclusion, which you appeared to ignore. I believe that that is showing discourtesy to the chair. We will move on, because time is short.
Members, I suggest that some respect and courtesy is shown to other members and to the chair.
We move on to the next speaker in the debate. I call Edward Mountain. He will have up to six minutes, in line with the preserved allocation of speaking times for the Scottish Conservatives in this debate.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am pleased to be able to rise to speak in this debate.
I will try to address the matter and put some flesh on the bones, because I spent a huge amount of time as convener of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee in session 5 looking at the procurement of vessels 801 and 802. I also had the privilege—if you can call it that—of having seen most of the documents on which the BBC based last night’s programme.
I will start off by talking about the contract bid. Let us be clear about this: CalMac gave its requirements to CMAL. They were quite considerable requirements, running to some 400-odd pages. They were not all perfect; in fact, some of them were strange. For example, CalMac asked for passenger cabins on the ferries, when there were to be no passenger cabins on these boats—but there they were, in the document.
That document was then distilled down into a 350-page document that formed the basis of Ferguson’s bid. Interestingly, if you look through it—or if you were able to flick your eyes quickly over it as the BBC were showing it—you will see that single words had been changed. For example, the word “should” had been changed to “will”. CalMac said that it “should” have something, while Ferguson’s said that it “will” have it. That is not really very clever.
What is also not clever is duplicating the errors in the original contract. For example, it was put in that there would be passenger cabins on the ferry, although we know that they were never part of it. We also found out that, as part of the tender process, the boat that was put forward by Ferguson’s was overpriced and overweight.
What I do not understand—and what I will fail to understand until the day I die—is why no one picked that up. Why did no one see that the biggest part of the document, which was about what the ferry would consist of, was pure duplication? The Government is telling us that it did not know, but I am not sure that I can go with that.
Let us look at the builders refund guarantee. In December 2014, Ferguson’s said that it would be incapable of producing a builders refund guarantee. It gave two reasons for that: it was a new business, and it had not developed a relationship with a bank. It said to CMAL in December that it could not do it. That was in the middle of the process, and yet Ferguson’s was able to continue with the process and was eventually awarded the contract—with no refund guarantee.
What does it mean to have no refund guarantee? It means that if everything goes wrong, one person has to pick up the costs. There is only one person who can pick up the costs for that, and it is not CMAL—it is the Scottish Government. If you are telling me that the Scottish Government did not know that it was going to be the lender of last resort when it all went wrong, I, frankly, do not believe you.
I also point out that CMAL was particularly nervous about that, and I am sure that it mentioned the issue to the Government, because it suggested that, as Ferguson’s bought the parts, they would become the property of CMAL and would not belong to Ferguson’s at all. As CMAL paid during the contract, it was taking control of the parts. That is an odd thing to do, so nobody should tell me that CMAL did not warn the Scottish Government. I believe that it must have done.
Then we got to the stage of the retender. Quite simply, the boat that was put forward was the wrong size—it was too heavy and cost too much. What did CMAL do? It said, “Well, you mentioned another boat and said it was no good, but we think it’s an excellent boat and we’d like you to tender on the principle of that.” That is what happened, and that is the boat that ended up being designed. Are people telling me that the Scottish Government did not know that? I do not believe that.
We started off with 15 staged payments and ended up with 18. When there are more staged payments, it probably means that the business that is getting the payments is in trouble and is financially unreliable. What happened then? In March 2017, the yard was nearly bankrupt, so CMAL said that it would release only part of the staged payments to the yard and that, when the yard could prove that the contractors who were owed money had been paid, CMAL would give a bit more of the staged payments. CMAL was trying to deliver the money to the yard and to make sure that the contractors were paid so that the yard did not go into receivership. However, at the same time, Derek Mackay was round the back with a van shoving £15 million into Ferguson’s and then another £30 million, making a mockery of that.
The Government can claim that it did not understand that the yard was close to being bankrupt. I would ask why ministers did not know that, but ministers cannot claim that they did not know that their Government was dishing out unsecured loans to Ferguson Marine.
I am running out of time, but I will look briefly at Tim Hair, who cost us £2 million and was interviewed on the telephone. He came to the business with a lot of knowledge—he had been an engineer on a cruise liner for a couple of years and had never built a ship in his life. It is always said of turnaround directors that, for the first six months of a contract, they are part of the problem and, after that, they become the problem. That is what happened, and that is why we are seeing the delays to the ferries that we are seeing at the moment.
In summary, we understand that crucial financial requirements were waived to allow only one bidder. The tender specification documents were given to only one bidder. The chance to retender and reduce the price was given to only one bidder. The tender happened to be awarded to a loyal Monegasque supporter. Staged payments were adapted to allow money to go into the yard—
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I will bring them to a conclusion.
I do not believe that the Government did not know what was going on. It knew fine well what was going on, and the Parliament has been misled, not only in the committees but in the chamber.
I welcome the publication of the project Neptune report and the fact that it sets out viable alternatives to the current structure. As I have said in previous debates, there are strong views in Argyll and Bute about the split roles of CMAL and CalMac. I need to be clear that this is about the structures and not the employees of either organisation. We need to recognise the important work that CalMac staff do, both onshore and aboard vessels, to make people’s journeys as safe and trouble-free as possible. I also suggest that among that group, as in communities, there is an untapped sea of valuable knowledge that could be used to improve the current situation.
The Minister for Transport has given a commitment to reform how we deliver ferry services, with the guiding principle that our island communities have to be part of that. We should also recognise that the Scottish Government’s investment in ferries has brought new routes, new vessels and upgraded harbour infrastructure as well as the roll-out of significantly reduced fares through the road equivalent tariff.
I am sorry, but I have a few things that I want to say.
I should say that, in Argyll and Bute, we have the MV Loch Frisa, the two new boats for Islay and the boats for the Dunoon-Gourock-Kilcreggan triangle and Mull, as well as investments in pier infrastructure.
I would like to share my thoughts on the current community consultation, specifically around winter timetables. It goes without saying that, every year, there will be a winter timetable to allow vessels to go for their annual overhauls. Those have been lengthened this year, which, I hope, will reduce the number of technical issues that were referenced earlier.
However, I struggle to understand why there appears to be a level of secrecy about what the timetables will look like. Communities are consulted and asked for their thoughts, and then there is silence. In June, I led a meeting on Mull at which I believed that there had been an agreement that the winter timetables would be shared and discussed with the ferry committee on the island, but that did not happen. Instead, last week, the minister was required to call a meeting to resolve the situation. A constituent who wrote to me said:
“I too wish that we had been a meaningful part of the consultation process from the beginning, and that the process had been transparent about the issues that we were facing.”
As I am sure other members do, I receive similar correspondence from all ferries groups in my constituency.
As I have said before, we need to recognise the importance of involving islanders in the decision-making process. It is those of us who live on islands who can provide useful intelligence about what our communities need. Some sailings are more important than others, and that should be taken into account when planning for disruption in order to maintain lifeline services.
I am sorry, but I would like to continue.
On Mr Bibby’s point, I am not sure that commercial vehicles would fit on a cruise liner. That is why we need local knowledge.
I welcome the minister’s statement that she has instructed Angus Campbell from the ferries community board to visit, take forward the next steps and engage with communities. Those engagements must be open and honest. Trust needs to be built, and all stakeholders need to engage. Folk need to understand the needs of other islanders and peninsula communities. We have a responsibility to support that, and the meeting with EY is a start.
In closing, I make two suggestions. First, when the minister reviews the structure of our ferry services, we need to look at including a review of the ferry routes that are operated by our local authorities and others. The Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee heard some evidence on that today. Secondly, whatever happens to the structure of our ferry services, the head office should be established truly within the community that it serves. We all recognise that the issue is not just transport performance; it is delivering the confidence that is needed to sustain our island populations.
I welcome this timely debate and the long-overdue publication of the project Neptune report. The further very serious revelations in the “Disclosure” programme that the Scottish Government did not stick to its own rules need to be responded to. A huge amount of public money has been squandered, and, of course, it is the taxpayer, islanders and people who rely on ferry services who are paying the price of the Scottish Government’s poor decision making and delays.
More than a decade ago, CalMac advised the Scottish Government that it would need to build a ferry every year just to stand still. That did not happen and, as a result, we have an ageing fleet that is increasingly unreliable. Sadly, the situation will only get worse. We need an emergency procurement plan from the Scottish Government. Despite repeated debates in the Parliament, a plan with an adequate ferry replacement programme has still not been presented.
I welcome that the Scottish Government has ruled out unbundling and privatisation, but it has not committed to an in-house permanent operation, and retendering still seems to be a possible route. I would be very grateful if the cabinet secretary would confirm whether that is the case, because decisions need to be made about tendering and the procurement of new ferries. Such issues were absent from the project Neptune report, and a clear direction of travel is needed urgently from the Scottish Government.
We know that our fleet is ageing. More than half of the 31 CalMac vessels are more than 25 years old, which is the age that ferries are expected to last.
As representatives in the Parliament, we know that it is the people who rely on those services and the communities in which they live that are paying the price every week.
We do not believe that the problem is ownership, and we do not believe that a competitive process on lifeline services will be the solution to the challenges that we face. We believe that we are in this situation now not because of the ownership model but because of a failure to recognise over a lengthy period—indeed, since the creation of the Scottish Parliament—that it is necessary to repeatedly procure new vessels. The Parliament needs to learn that lesson, and we need to accept our responsibility to ensure that the vessels are procured.
CalMac has looked at more than 130 vessels around the world with a view to bringing them in second-hand. It is clear that that is not the solution. We need a procurement policy that builds in Scotland, develops our industrial capacity and delivers for communities that rely on ferry services.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. It is clear how important ferries are to the communities that they serve and what they mean to the economy and general wellbeing of such communities.
First, we must acknowledge that, since 2007, £2 billion has been invested in service contracts, new vessels and infrastructure and that, in the current five-year period, a further £580 million has been committed.
I am sorry; I have only four minutes and I will not have time.
The Scottish Government’s commitment to publish the islands connectivity plan by the end of 2022 is welcome. As we know, the islands connectivity plan will replace the current ferries plan and will consider aviation, ferries and fixed links. Jenni Minto has underlined that the involvement of local knowledge in discussions is incredibly important; the plan will enable us to consider other potential viable options in consultation with islanders.
I want to focus on a few key issues. First, the priority is the delivery of vessels on time, so that we can ensure reliability when it comes to lifeline services for our islands. It was good to hear the minister talk about extra tonnage as we move towards winter.
Secondly, as a few colleagues have touched on, the Scottish Government remains fully committed to supporting the Ferguson yard to secure a sustainable future, including a pipeline of future work.
I am sorry; I have only four minutes. I do not have time.
The Scottish Government continues to work closely with the yard to ensure that it becomes globally competitive.
Thirdly, the Scottish Government remains open to feedback regarding areas for improvement, which has been committed to.
I am sorry; I have only four minutes.
On 8 September
, the Minister for Transport made a statement on the future of Scottish ferries and published the project Neptune report. As was made clear in the statement, the project is a complex piece of work that will require further engagement with all stakeholders. We have talked about the importance of CalMac and CMAL staff in ensuring the most efficient and best value arrangement for future ferry governance structures.
Project Neptune will consider recommendations for improvements in the current arrangements for delivering ferry services in the west of Scotland. Much in the current arrangements delivers well, but there are clearly actions for the Scottish Government. The report also sets out longer-term options, on which no decision has been made other than on the options that have already been ruled out around privatisation or the unbundling of the CalMac network.
Finally, I want to touch on the issues that were raised in the “Disclosure” programme. The accusations are serious and they are being taken seriously. As he stated this morning and in the programme last night, the Deputy First Minister has concerns over them and, through the permanent secretary, has asked the Auditor General to investigate, which is the best way to investigate the issues and report to Parliament.
No—I am sorry.
It has been a tough few years for some of our island communities due to adverse weather, Covid and, of course, technical and delayed orders.
Lessons need to be learned; our island communities need to be reassured and fully consulted; and we need a thriving shipbuilding industry.
Thank you, Mr McLennan. [
.] Excuse me, members. Could we have some quiet, and some decorum, in the chamber?
.] If members wish to make a point of order, they are very welcome to do so. Failing that, I would like to move on to the next speaker, and I would like the next speaker to be extended the courtesy of members listening.
I welcome the on-going Scottish Government engagement with affected communities and stakeholders on the options that are contained in the project Neptune report, and I am keen to ensure that the Scottish Government continues to fully engage with all our island communities on those lifeline services.
The Scottish Greens have long called for a commitment on long-term investment, as well as a full fares review, as part of the islands connectivity plan, and I look forward to the publication of the Scottish ferries plan in December. It is vital that we listen to the voices of those people who are often excluded from such conversations, especially those of young people and women, so that we create a ferry service that is representative of the people it serves and that provides more opportunities for young people from islands and remote rural areas to thrive.
I very much hope that ministers recognise the concerns of island communities and the need to continue to work closely with them during periods of disruption. Accurate and timely communication is key to avoiding unnecessary impacts on island economies, of which ferries are the lifeblood.
As a Highlands and Islands MSP, I hear and feel the profound impact that the on-going ferry disruption has had on my constituents. It is vital to centre them in this debate and in all our plans to improve ferry services. Our islands are not museums; they are living, breathing communities that have ferries as their vital arteries. Every cancelled ferry trip for islanders is an appointment missed, a job unfinished or a shop unstocked.
Lifeline ferry services are essential to community life, so it is only reasonable that they should be governed by those same communities. As we have heard, local people understand the nuances and the connections that the ferries have with their communities, and they are best placed to support the replacement and upgrading of Scotland’s ferries.
I see from looking at the clock that I will not be able to.
Earlier this year, I welcomed the plans to expand the current fleet to build in redundancy over the winter and to add capacity in the summer, but I continue to urge that those new vessels be low carbon, like the electric ferries that run on renewable energy in places such as Sweden and Denmark. We also need to decarbonise our existing vessels. Retrofitting an electric motor cuts pollution, emissions, noise and running costs.
To upgrade and decarbonise the fleet, we need a strategic long-term plan, but that remains challenging when CalMac must bid for the contract every six years, at great expense. It would help to end the competitive bidding process and to make interisland ferries part of a publicly owned Scottish national infrastructure.
I ask the Scottish Government to consider the importance of fixed links as another important part of islands transport infrastructure, particularly where such links could provide cost-effective long-term solutions to meet the needs of island communities such as Yell and Unst in Shetland, where there is strong support for that approach. That would make sense, given that Yell is now part of the carbon-neutral islands pilot.
It is crucial that we unlock the potential of our island communities and help them to reverse depopulation trends by delivering a resilient ferry network that will secure Scotland’s future as a thriving island nation.
As many in the chamber will know, I, like many of my constituents, rely on public transport to get around. Given that I am a representative of the Highlands and Islands, that transport frequently includes ferries. On a personal level, therefore, it is very important to me that ferry services get the right amount of attention and funding from the Scottish Government.
I understand the Tories holding the Government to account when there are shortcomings and asking questions about instances in which ferries have not run or when communication has not been what it ought to have been. However, the needs of islanders must be at the heart of any debate on ferries, whether that debate be about procurement, shipbuilding or managing the services. Exaggerations—and, in the case of recent claims about freight not being moved, outright lies—in the national news do not help islanders. It does not help anyone if my constituents—
I cannot promise that, but, as an islander, I probably have a bit of perspective.
One of the issues that we are facing is an Audit Scotland inquiry into the matter. Can the member confirm that Audit Scotland has no role in a criminal investigation, cannot compel witnesses and cannot interview individuals under caution, whereas a public inquiry or a police investigation can? Does she not recognise that what we need to get the information—
That was more of a speech.
I recognise that I have no place in criminal investigations—and neither does the Scottish Government—so I echo earlier comments by saying that it is not appropriate for me to claim that there is a need for one.
Going back to my point about exaggerations, I do not think that it helps anyone if my constituents hear such things in the news and think that there is no point in going to the shops, because there will be no food, when there is, or that they have to cancel an appointment, when they do not. It is unacceptable that, thanks to Conservative MSPs, that is exactly what is happening.
My advice to members is to approach this issue genuinely. [
.] No, I am not giving way. There are genuine points to be made on behalf of the islanders whom members claim to speak for, rather than members focusing on whose head should roll and which synonym is being used to describe the situation today.
I, like any Highlands and Islands representative, deal regularly with casework on ferries, but in the past three months, more people have complained to me about misinformation—most of it coming from members on the Conservative benches—than have complained about last-minute changes to services.
Nobody—and I include the Scottish Government in this—is saying that there is not work to be done on ferry services. I would not stand here and claim that. The situation is not good enough; there are big issues and a lot of effort will be needed from a lot of people to improve things. However, I am reassured by the tone of the minister’s contribution this afternoon. To me, the quotes from the First Minister that were read out earlier are not the quotes of a person pretending that nothing has gone wrong either.
On the issue of scrutiny, this is far from the first debate on ferries that we have had in the chamber since I was elected last year, and there is also great committee interest in what happens next. Indeed, the documentary that many have mentioned also focused on an inquiry that was held by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee in the previous session. It is insincere to claim that scrutiny is being avoided or is not occurring.
The aims of project Neptune, which are to improve services and support island economies, are bang on. The involvement of local communities, whose voices are the most important here, is the right way to go about this. My colleague Jenni Minto made some very good points on that and, like her, I will be watching carefully as more detail emerges.
The vast majority of ferries run on time, and listening to the Tories will not give an accurate picture of what the real issues are or allow us to move forward in the right way. The only way to do that is to scrutinise the report and the Scottish Government’s actions on their own merits.
In the midst of this mess are people, as Katy Clark has pointed out: people who are trying to live their lives, work and run their businesses. It is almost impossible for them to do that with ferry services that are not working.
When the Lochboisdale ferry business impact group looked at the economic effect of losing the Lochboisdale to Mallaig ferry services for a short period and surveyed business regarding losses, it concluded that, in 14 days, there had been an estimated loss of £658,000 to the local economy, with no compensation. That is just what happened over 14 days, on a route that tends to be the first sacrificed when there is disruption.
We have to look only at the level of disruption on all the west coast routes to understand the economic damage that is being done to fragile island communities. Yesterday we debated depopulation—we need look no further to see the reasons for that.
We want these routes to remain in public ownership, as my colleague Neil Bibby has said. We believe that people should come before profit on lifeline services. However, that does not mean that we believe that this Government is doing a good job—far from it. The Scottish Government needs to confirm that there will be no more expensive tendering processes on the island routes. Years of failure on the part of the Scottish Government are coming home to roost, and the Government needs to find a workable solution now.
There has been a drip-drip of scandal about what went wrong with the Arran and Harris-Uist ferry procurement process. It beggars belief, yet we are no closer to understanding what happened. That procurement needs independent scrutiny of every detail of the process. Willie Rennie is right—no one is taking responsibility. At best, this is an incompetent Government; at worst, it is dishonest.
Our amendment talks about the workforce at Ferguson’s, who, sadly, have also been let down, as Neil Bibby has said. The Government must support the Ferguson’s workforce to rebuild its reputation and grow in confidence.
What is also unbelievable about all this is that the Government fines CalMac when services are cancelled and unreliable, although the Government itself is responsible. Maybe the Government should use some of those fines to compensate businesses and the people who face the cost of cancellations.
Katy Clark has said that we need urgent action, but the minister says that she cannot act because she needs to consult islanders. However, the minister’s Government failed to consult initially. We all know that islanders wanted smaller and faster boats, with more sailings and more flexibility in the fleet. They did not get that.
There must be an independent inquiry. We have little confidence that the Scottish Government will furnish Audit Scotland with the information that it needs to investigate. We know that in the past the Government has withheld information, making it impossible for Audit Scotland to do its job.
The winter is coming, when disruption is at its highest. Islanders cannot wait for action. The minister blames weather, but frankly the issue is not the weather, but the wrong ferry on the wrong route in the winter. This is Scotland, after all—we expect bad weather in the winter.
Islanders need good, reliable boats to serve communities, so that people can work, build businesses and get to family and health appointments. Islanders have suffered too long. This incompetent Government needs to act now.
In my response to the urgent question from Graham Simpson yesterday, I acknowledged the significance of the issues that were raised in the BBC “Disclosure” programme. Having watched the programme last night, I reiterate my concerns about the issues that it raised. Graham Simpson asked me yesterday what the Government is doing about that, and I responded by indicating that we had taken the step of asking our permanent secretary to raise with Audit Scotland the issues that were put to us at the end of last week. I welcome the statement that the Auditor General for Scotland made yesterday afternoon that Audit Scotland will consider whether further scrutiny work is required. As I confirmed yesterday to Parliament—I hope that this reassures Mr Bibby—the Government, CMAL and Ferguson’s will fully engage with and support any work that Audit Scotland undertakes in that respect.
In relation to the procurement of vessels 801 and 802 and their delivery, I have accepted in Parliament and say again that I accept my share of collective responsibility for the fact that the vessels have not been delivered on time and on budget. I deeply regret that. I regret it for the impact on the reputation of Ferguson’s. I regret it for the impact on islanders, because—again, in relation to Mr Bibby’s points—had the ferries been delivered, we would have had two newer vessels at an earlier stage, providing resilience in the network, which would have given us the ability to have reserve vessels available, in the way that we used to have with the MV Isle of Arran. That would have given us capacity, particularly in the context of winter resilience.
I am aware of the letter that Ferguson’s sent to the committee today. The Government will interrogate the report that has come from Ferguson’s, with appropriate due diligence, to determine our response to the points that it raises.
I stress—I will come on to this in a moment—that there is a necessity for sustained investment in the ferry network, and the Government has, of course, committed to that in other respects.
That is precisely what I addressed in my response to Mr Rennie; we will carry out due diligence on the points that Ferguson’s raises with us and the update that has come forward. Obviously, I want to minimise any further cost to the public purse as a consequence.
Before I leave the question of the procurement of 801 and 802, I take the opportunity to place on record my deep personal appreciation for the contribution of Alex Logan and John McMunagle, who appeared in the “Disclosure Scotland” programme last night—two fine individuals whom I met many years ago, before Ferguson’s got into difficulties in 2014. Throughout that time, they have been faithful servants to Ferguson’s, and I thank them for their contribution and the generous welcome that they have always extended to me in my associations with them.
Over the past 10 years or so, the Government’s investment in ferries has increased from £140 million in 2013-14 to £315 million in this financial year.
I am afraid that I have to watch my time as I have some ground to cover.
That indicates the significant investment that the Government has made in ferries. Commitments to new routes, such as Mallaig to Lochboisdale and Ardrossan to Campbeltown, and extra sailings to Colonsay and to Coll and Tiree have been delivered. A host of elements of the ferries plan have been implemented as we expanded services. We have procured 801 and 802 as well as the two Islay-class ferries that will be delivered in 2024-25. The network has been expanded and invested in.
In relation to performance, any ferry cancellation is inconvenient to islanders or to other members of the public, whatever their reasons for being in the islands. I point out that in 2021, only 1 per cent of services were cancelled because of mechanical issues; three times as many were cancelled because of weather conditions. There has also been disruption to the network because of Covid infections spreading.
I close on an interesting element of the debate that is emerging on project Neptune, on which the transport minister briefed Parliament three weeks ago. It was also raised by Katy Clark in her contribution, although I was not able to follow all the elements of what she referred to. She raised the importance of there being no unbundling, which the Government agrees with, and no privatisation, which the Government also agrees with, and I welcome the opportunity to place that on the record.
It feels like 100 years since I gave my maiden speech in the Parliament in May 2016. As with most maiden speeches, as is tradition, I spoke about the great beauty of my area and the local issues that local people face on a daily basis.
Specifically, and unapologetically, I addressed the issue of connectivity and strong transport links to our communities, and that includes our island communities. Sadly, since I gave that speech, things have gone from bad to worse for our island communities. The situation is best summed up by the BBC programme that members have spoken of in the debate. The programme finally gave the wider public visibility of a situation that has played out in this building for many years. Our islanders are in a truly dire situation.
What I am talking about? Ferries—ferries, ferries, ferries, and then some more ferries. Did I mention ferries? I hope that I made that clear enough for Mr Wishart if he is tweeting about today’s proceedings. We make no apologies for raising the issue of ferries in our debating time, and it is frankly shameful that the Government does not do so more often.
I do not need to repeat the endless conversation about the murkiness around the awarding of the contracts to Ferguson’s, but I will note that Mr Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, was very keen to stress in the media that not a single Government minister put a single ounce of pressure on anyone in CMAL to award the contract to Ferguson’s. He made that claim and I hope that it is true, but if it transpires that the award process was irregular, improper or even illegal, the truth must emerge. It begs the following questions: who was driving all of that, and who was really in charge, calling the shots and making decisions? All that we have heard so far is endless buck passing, excuse making and finger pointing. Not a single head has rolled for any of this, and it is a scandal.
If the situation had involved a company in the private sector, the police would have been called yonks ago. It is unbelievable that no one has sought to get to the truth of the matter. Last night, the whole country heard about what ferry failures look like in real life—something that our islanders have known for a very long time.
Paul McLennan said that it has been a “tough few years” for our islands. Yes, it has. I am going to nominate him for the award of understatement of the year at tonight’s
Holyrood awards. This is what tough looks like. Tough is businesses factoring in cash-flow problems and writing off the bottom line in their profit-and-loss statements because of ferry problems. Tough is the young student on Iona who lost up to a third of his schooling because of ferry problems. Tough is the ferry group that had to beg its community to fund an investigatory feasibility study for a vessel that they had to find themselves, only to be knocked back by Government agencies. That is what tough looks like for our island communities, and it comes as no surprise given that the average age of a CalMac vessel is 24 years. Is it any wonder that we have ended up here?
I have some statistics for Emma Roddick. On the Arran route, there were 373 delayed sailings in the whole of 2007, but by July of this year—half way through the year—that number had tripled. The number of technical faults—unrelated to weather—have gone up by 81 per cent in the past four years. All of that comes at a cost—a financial, operational and, as we hear too often, human cost.
The SNP’s 2007 manifesto promised a fairer deal for our islands. That promise was repeated in its 2011 manifesto, in which the SNP stated to voters, “Elect us and we will place the needs of our island communities at the centre of the Government’s agenda.” What a shallow promise that turned out to be.
We had the flagship blueprint for ferries in 2012—the “Scottish Ferry Services: Ferries Plan (2013-2022)”—in which Keith Brown proclaimed:
“We are fully committed to delivering first class sustainable ferry services to our communities, stimulating social and economic growth across Scotland.”
That plan included six new ferries, but the Government has not even delivered two. Ten years on from that plan, there is no new plan, or even a hint of one.
Although project Neptune is welcome, it focuses on governance structures and it is not a comprehensive ferry replacement and procurement plan. We are still missing hulls 801 and 802. They may eventually come into service, but they are only two vessels—just two—and 16 of CalMac’s vessels are more than 25 years old. We have learned today, as we have been speaking, that there is even more slippage in the programme, and significant risk, more delays and potentially more costs remain. In an ironic twist of fate, the reality, which many of us warned about, is that the Glen Sannox may only sail on one fuel type. The so-called liquid natural gas dual-fuel model—the green solution to marine transport and the cause of so many problems in the ferry-building process—might not even be used.
Let us go back to the 2012 plan from those who sit on the centre benches. The SNP promised that there would always be sufficient capacity on routes to meet demand. What a joke that is, because when one boat breaks down, the SNP takes one from another route. The SNP takes the boat from one island and gives it to another, pitting island against island. It is no wonder that the Arran Ferry Action Group described the situation as “the island wheel of misfortune”. That group, along with many others, is genuinely worried about the forthcoming winter. There is a disgraceful inevitability about this: they are staring down the barrel of an ageing fleet—a fleet that is breaking down and letting them down.
Last winter, entire routes were cancelled, travellers were stranded, people genuinely struggled for supplies and medical appointments were missed. The misery went on and on, and this year’s CalMac winter timetable is late, too. It is that lack of consultation and listening that has got us to where we are today.
We are listening to communities and they are saying what a disastrous mess the Government has made of the ferry network. The Government should be ashamed. Minister, do not get me wrong—[
The current transport minister is the fifth such minister in as many years, and of course she was not responsible for these decisions. However, she must be accountable for, and take responsibility for, the actions of her Government, because no one else seems to be.
The lads in the Port Glasgow yard summed it up nicely. On the telly last night, they said to the nation, “It’s never been about the workforce; it’s all about the leadership.” I agree, and that starts with political leadership, but today we have seen very little of that—no leadership and no accountability. That has to change, and it has to change now.