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Chamber and committees

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.

Find out more about the public petition

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 will share the conclusions from our inquiry with the Scottish Government.

Remit of the Inquiry

The inquiry aims 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 will ask—

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 will also pursue 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 will be 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.

Your views

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.

Browse responses to the call for views

The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) prepared an analysis of the responses to the call for views.


28 June 2022

The Committee heard from island ferry users' representatives— Sam Bourne, Chairman, Arran Ferry Action Group; Garry MacLean, Vice Convenor, Islay Community Council Ferry Committee; Margaret Morrison, Chair, Harris Transport Forum (HTF); Laurence Odie, Chairman, Yell Community Council; Joe Reade, Chair, Mull & Iona Ferry Committee; and Paul Riley, Transport Representative, Stronsay Community Council.

1 November 2022

The Committee heard from two of Scotland's independent ferry operators— Helen Inkster, Managing Director, Pentland Ferries and Gordon Ross, Managing Director, Western Ferries.

8 November 2022

The Committee heard from a panel of business and tourism representatives— Rob Dickson, Director of Industry and Destination Development, VisitScotland; Martin Johnson, Director of Strategy and Regional Economy, Highlands and Islands Enterprise; and Peter Clark, Deputy Director, Industry, Scotch Whisky Association.

15 November 2022

The Committee heard from two trade union representatives— Gordon Martin, Regional Organiser and Lead Officer for CalMac Ferries, National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and Martyn Gray, Executive Officer, Nautilus International.


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