Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee
A modern and sustainable ferry service for Scotland
The Committee received a public petition saying the unreliability of ferries has resulted in losses to island economies relying on tourism and in travel restrictions for island residents, who need reliable and regular services.
The Committee noted there were issues with island connections beyond those covered by the petition. It agreed it needed to look at ferry services comprehensively. On 15 March 2022 the Committee agreed to undertake an inquiry into ferry services. We shared the conclusions from our inquiry with the Scottish Government.
Remit of the Inquiry
The inquiry aimed to seek out how best to secure a ferry service that is future-proofed, compatible with Scotland’s net zero goals and will meet the needs of all service users, having regard in particular to the long-term sustainability of island communities. It asked—
1. What do island residents, businesses, and other ferry users need in the short, medium and long term from Scottish Government-supported ferry services?
- Meeting the needs and sustainability of island and remote rural communities and businesses, including secure jobs providing ferry services
- Meeting the needs of mainland communities and businesses, including visitors
- Service needs at different times of the year
- Which needs are better met by other modes, e.g. air travel where available?
- How should the Scottish Government support council-run ferry services?
- How can ferry users and island communities be involved in decision making at strategic and operational level?
2. What institutional and funding arrangements would most likely deliver service patterns, vessels, and crewing arrangements that meet the needs of current and potential future ferry users?
- Can the current tri-partite arrangement (Transport Scotland, CMAL, Ferry Operator) for managing most ferry service provision be improved?
- Can current tendering arrangements be improved, e.g. through service unbundling?
- Can Scottish Government subsidies be better deployed to meet the needs of current and future ferry users?
- Are current services providing best value for the taxpayer?
3. What vessel size, type, deployment and crewing arrangements would best satisfy the needs you have identified?
- Vessel size and type
- Sustainable propulsion systems (including energy-use and moves to low carbon systems)
- Compatibility with harbour facilities
- Onboard crew accommodation
- Current procurement criteria and processes: what are their strengths and weaknesses? Are they “future proofed” to accommodate new technologies and the need for sustainable low-carbon travel?
During the inquiry, the Committee also pursued the following objectives:
- To engage with communities impacted by problems with ferry services and understand better the impact these have, particularly on island life (in particular, the effects of weather on services, sustainability of population and attracting inhabitants, access to key services and businesses)
- To understand what a modern ferry service should look like from different perspectives, from island and mainland residents, individuals and businesses,
- To consider and draw attention to best practice in ferry provision and service including considering examples from private enterprise or internationally;
- To hold the Scottish Government, operators and asset holders to account and scrutinise carefully whether their decisions and strategies are in the best interests of service users and the taxpayer;
- To help inform Scottish Government’s policies and strategies on ferries and island connectivity as well as the procurement process for future vessels.
- To identify the needs and views of different groups in particular young people and disabled people;
- To adapt scrutiny to the different needs, experiences and solutions of different islands and communities;
- Recognise the importance of island impact assessments carried out by relevant authorities; and
- To incorporate the contribution of transport to net zero goals into scrutiny throughout the inquiry.
Conclusions and recommendations were set out in a report to the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland, setting out the Committee’s views on how best to secure a state-funded ferry service that is future-proofed, compatible with Scotland’s net zero goals and will meet the needs of all service users, having regard in particular to the long-term sustainability of island communities.
28 June 2022
The Committee heard from a panel of island ferry users' representatives.
1 November 2022
The Committee heard from two of Scotland's independent ferry operators.
8 November 2022
The Committee heard from a panel of business and tourism representatives.
15 November 2022
The Committee heard from a panel of trade union representatives.
31 January 2023
The Committee heard from a panel of independent experts, followed by representatives of the Ferries Community Board.
7 February 2023
The Committee heard from two panels of local authorities involved with operating Council-run services or affected by the delivery of ferry services in Scotland.
21 February 2023
The Committee heard from a panel of experts on Norwegian ferry services, then from representatives of CalMac Ferries and NorthLink Ferries.
28 February 2023
To conclude its evidence-taking, the Committee heard from representatives of Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL). It then took evidence from the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland.
The Committee ran a call for views to hear different perspectives on what a modern ferry service should look like.
The call for views closed on 26 August 2022 at midnight.
The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) prepared an analysis of the responses to the call for views.