Comhairle Calls For Direct Action By Minister In Ferries Debacle

The Chairman of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has today called for the intervention of the Minister for Transport and the Islands to address significant and growing concerns associated with the performance of Transport Scotland and CalMac Ferries Ltd following a period of unprecedented disruption to ferry services across the Clyde and Hebrides network.

Cllr Uisdean Robertson said, "I have personally been inundated over the last several weeks by a huge amount of complaints regarding the levels of service, the extent of disruption and the lack of effective communications by CalMac.  The non-availability of a single vessel, the MV Clansman, has had wide ranging implications across the network.  I have received complaints from many members of the public and businesses in the Western Isles and I am aware that the implications have been felt in other communities elsewhere in the network.

The lack of resilience and of suitable spare capacity in the fleet is unacceptable and must be dealt with by the Minister as a matter of urgency.  We and colleagues in HITRANS and other affected local authorities have made several strong representations to Transport Scotland and CalMac management over the last several weeks but we seem to be getting nowhere.  We really do question the performance and decision-making of both bodies and would reiterate our suggestion that a far greater number of these senior management and administrative posts should be based within the communities they are supposed to serve.

The resilience of the fleet was only one area of concern; another is a complete lack of progress in addressing the short-term challenges associated with a lack of capacity during the peak tourism period on the Stornoway-Ullapool, Uig-Lochmaddy-Tarbert, and Sound of Harris routes.  We welcomed the news of a STAG assessment on ferry services to and within the Outer Hebrides, however, the outcomes of this will not be available until 2019; in the meantime, the lack of capacity is constraining the tourism sector in the islands at a time when the sector itself is putting considerable efforts into marketing the islands as an attractive and desirable holiday destination.

We are aware that the CalMac Community Board met recently and feels that “it can contribute a legitimate community perspective to future planning decisions” and that CalMac has accepted the offer of the Board to work with the operator in “formulating a plan, including more robust contingency and prioritisation measures, which will help to protect the lifeline ferry services in the short, medium and long terms.

Whilst we would welcome this announcement, we see the need for a higher-level intervention by the Minister himself.  CalMac, after all, are only the operator of the service procured by Transport Scotland on behalf of Scottish Misters.  Government Ministers cannot and should not be happy with the performance of these ferry services and the operator and we would ask Mr Yousaf to personally intervene.

We also see a strong role for HITRANS and local authorities and would suggest that Mr Yousaf convenes a Ferries Summit as a matter of urgency.

Too many of these critical issues are being “kicked into the long grass” by Transport Scotland and CalMac in the hope that, in time, they may just go away.  This is simply not acceptable and, if the Scottish Government and the Minister are to be genuine in their commitment to delivering first class sustainable ferry services to Scotland’s island and peninsular communities, they must act positively and must act now".