Ferries (Arran)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 27 February 2024.

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Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

1. To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take to ensure optimum ferry capacity to and from Arran, in light of reports that repairs to the MV Caledonian Isles are not expected to conclude before mid-June. (S6T-01818)

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

The delay involving the MV Caledonian Isles is regrettable, and I recognise the frustration that is felt by communities as a result.

The responsibility for operational decisions about ferry services lies with CalMac Ferries Ltd, as the operator. We expect it to work with advisers to ensure that repair work is progressed at pace. The Cabinet Secretary for Transport spoke yesterday with CalMac’s chief executive to convey her concern, and made it clear that everything must be done to address capacity and provide assurances for the Arran community and others across the network—in particular, as we look towards the Easter break and beyond.

The MV Isle of Arran is operating from Ardrossan, and additional sailings continue via the island’s secondary route between Claonaig and Lochranza. No capacity issues are reported at this time.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

The minister is fully aware of the impact on Arran and Ardrossan of numerous cancellations due to weather, mechanical breakdown and fender repairs, together with the permanent closure by Peel Ports of Ardrossan’s Irish berth and the subsequent removal of the MV Alfred by CalMac.

Ardrossan to Brodick is CalMac’s busiest route, yet it is being serviced by the 40-year-old MV Isle of Arran alone. Given that Easter is on the horizon, the loss of the MV Caledonian Isles could not have come at a worse time for Arran’s economy. Right now, islanders need certainty. What reassurance can the minister provide to Arranachs and prospective visitors that the capacity that he said is not a problem at the moment will not be a problem during the Easter holidays?

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport has committed to engaging directly with the communities that have been impacted. She met the Isle of Arran ferry committee last week, and she thanks Mr Gibson for his part in organising that event. At that meeting, she agreed to impress on CalMac the need for capacity to be in place for the Easter holidays. She has done so this week, and will continue to do so.

We are pushing CalMac to ensure that it has in place a robust contingency plan to maximise capacity with available vessels, and that it can clearly communicate that the island remains open for business across that period.

The cabinet secretary is currently travelling back from a visit to the Western Isles, where she met local communities and port and ferry staff.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for that answer. Of course, people cannot book until at least 4 March, when the new travel times are in place, because of the situation with the MV Caledonian Isles and the late decision for it to be sent down south for work to be done.

The coming disruption and fleet reshuffling are likely to be the first major test of CalMac’s route prioritisation framework since it was overhauled last October. Can the minister confirm that the appalling service that Arran has endured in recent months will be considered? In addition, can he say whether the increased risk of cancellations and divergence resulting from issues at Ardrossan harbour will be factored into vessel deployment decisions, with ways being found to expedite the MV Glen Sannox entering service on the ferry network at the earliest possible opportunity

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

As ministers requested following service disruption last year, CalMac has reviewed its route prioritisation matrix for the major vessel fleet, with the support of the ferries community board. Following public consultation, CalMac has made a number of changes to its prioritisation approach, including placing more emphasis on the level of use by island residents and commercial vehicles, along with higher prioritisation for routes with limited capacity on alternative services.

I fully expect that to be applied by CalMac when it considers the deployment options.

The plans and the timing for introducing the MV Glen Sannox to service will be kept under review as we progress through the build completion, handover and operation trials process. The trials are required in order to meet Maritime and Coastguard Agency and other requirements and, ultimately, to provide safe and efficient services for our island communities

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

The minister said that the situation is “regrettable”. That is surely an understatement: it is catastrophic. The island is now being serviced by one vessel that is more than four decades old. If it breaks down, what else is there? The problem is that CalMac will need to take another ferry off another island route, thereby pitting one island against another. That is shambolic.

I ask directly: is the Scottish Government willing to put up its purse and give compensation to businesses that are losing money hand over fist day in and day out, right now? Will it also stand up and apologise to the people of Arran for the absolutely shambolic handling of the entire ferry fiasco over which the minister’s party, and his Government, has presided?

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

The issues around compensation have, understandably and rightly, been raised with the Government many a time. I have looked into the penalty deductions that are made in relation to failures on the network, and the view is that we should continue to use that money to reinvest in the ferry network.

There is a legitimate goal regarding use of those deductions, but the best use of that money is to reinvest it back in the network.

I have previously noted the calls for business support, but any such scheme would need to be carefully considered and would require that stark choices be made about funding priorities, set against efforts to provide resilience in the network.

The cabinet secretary and ministers are due to meet to discuss those wider issues in respect of island business resilience.

Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour

The minister will be aware of the appalling implications for Arran resulting from the continuing failure to provide a regular Brodick-Ardrossan service. The MV Caledonian Isles has been out of service since early January and—as has been said—the MV Alfred can no longer be used on the route, so we are reliant on the 40-year-old MV Isle of Arran.

Does the minister accept that that is an inevitable problem of having an ageing fleet as a result of past failure to invest? Indeed, the failure to make progress at Ardrossan harbour is coming home to roost. We need much more robust resilience strategies, and the Scottish Government needs to be centrally involved in that provision.

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

I do not think that there is any doubt that the Arran community has been impacted. I spoke to businesses this morning and am quite sure that the cabinet secretary is working with them regularly and engaging with them fully. I am hearing from businesses in the community that they are very pleased with the response that they are getting from the cabinet secretary. I am convinced that she will find the solutions that we need in order to move forward.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

Unfortunately, withdrawal of the MV Caledonian Isles comes at a crucial time, as we approach the busier summer timetable period. Communities across the network are anxiously awaiting an update on deployment proposals for all CalMac’s other major vessels while the MV Caley Isles is out of action. Can the minister assure my constituents that no island community will be forced to bear the brunt of that disruption in the weeks to come?

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

As I have already said, the cabinet secretary met CalMac yesterday to convey her concern and to ensure that it has a robust contingency plan in place to maximise capacity with the available vessels, and to ensure continued provision of lifeline services across the network.

At the request of ministers, CalMac has made a number of changes to its prioritisation approach, including placing more emphasis on the level of use by island residents and commercial vehicles, along with higher prioritisation for routes with limited capacity on alternative services. I fully expect that approach to be applied by CalMac when it considers deployment options.