Ferries (Consultants)

Portfolio Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:00 pm on 13 June 2024.

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Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour 2:00, 13 June 2024

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that it has spent nearly £6 million on consultants providing advice on the future of ferries. (S6O-03566)

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

On complex and high-value projects, specialist advice is required to ensure that Scottish Government contracts fully meet policy objectives and legal requirements. That figure refers to work since 2015, which has included support from specialist technical, legal and financial external advisers, including those with expertise in the maritime sector, in their work both in Scotland and internationally. The work will help to ensure that we adhere to the relevant legislation, that we meet the needs of communities and that the appropriate ferries projects deliver value for money to the public purse.

Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour

I understand that the latest award is of £250,000 to EY, but passengers and the workforce are in the dark as to what the work by consultants has achieved, to date. Will the cabinet secretary advise members on that and commit to a formal and regular structure of direct engagement with the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association and other CalMac Ferries unions on the case for a direct award? Will she outline the engagement that she is having with islanders? What more can be done to ensure that the voices of the workforce and islanders are heard in decisions about the future structure of our ferry services?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

The short answer is that I do, they are and we will. We regularly engage with the unions. I have a regular session specifically with the ferry unions, and a direct award has been the subject of discussions with them. Just as important, if not more important, is the detail of that. The content of the next award has been the subject of direct engagement between Transport Scotland officials and the unions. Similarly, we will report on consultation of islanders on the next award.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

A number of members wish to ask supplementaries. I will try to get them all in, but they will need to brief, as will the responses.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I was pleased to see that the new MV Loch Indaal was launched at the weekend. I look forward to its entering service next year.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that we could make more progress and deliver more investment in essential infrastructure, including our ferry fleet, if Scotland’s capital budget had not been slashed by the Tories? Does she share my concern that, if Labour wins the election, far from providing more funds for Scotland, it will make further cuts that will hamper our ambition for ferries and other essential transport?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

In recent years, we have delivered record levels of funding for ferry services and improved infrastructure. It was great to see the Loch Indaal being launched at the weekend.

Our planned investment is set out in the islands connectivity plan and in the vessels and ports plan, but it relies on significant uplifts in budgets, particularly in relation to capital. We know that the United Kingdom Government’s spring budget fell far short of meeting Scotland’s needs. We also know, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, that Labour is planning to make cuts and that it would require cuts of up to £20 billion to be made by 2028.

We need the incoming UK Government to introduce an emergency budget to restore the £1.3 billion cut in Scotland’s capital budget.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Labour

Would the cabinet secretary agree to allow a briefing—a private briefing, if necessary—to be provided by First Marine International on the benchmarking study that it carried out on the Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow) Ltd shipyard and the investment that it would need to make it sufficiently competitive?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I am not responsible for Ferguson Marine, but I will relay that question to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Gaelic, who has the key responsibility in that area.

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

Has the Scottish Government hired consultants to look at the option of tunnels to replace ferries and, if it has, how much has been spent on that, to date?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Tunnels are part of the strategic transport projects review 2, and Beatrice Wishart will be aware that the Shetland task force is looking at various connectivity issues across the islands, including Shetland Islands Council ferry replacements and tunnels. There has been constructive engagement with the Shetland ferry replacement task force, which has been convened by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government.

In relation to the work by consultants that has been carried out for Shetland, we have agreed to look at any business development support that might be required in terms of planning. However, that is a broader answer to the specific question that Beatrice Wishart asked.