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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, June 20, 2024


West Coast Ferry Services

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

I encourage those who are leaving the public gallery to do so as quickly and as quietly as possible.

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-13505, in the name of Jamie Greene, on west coast ferry disruption and replacement. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern reports of a number of ongoing issues affecting CalMac ferry services on the west coast of Scotland ahead of the busy summer tourist season; further notes, in particular, reportedly ongoing problems with the MV Caledonian Isles, which were identified during its annual overhaul; understands that, as a result of the loss of the MV Caledonian Isles, the summer timetable for 2024 will be supported by two vessels rather than three as usual; further understands that this has led to a severe reduction in capacity for both passengers and vehicles on the route, as the MV Isle of Arran operates a core single vessel timetable on the Ardrossan-Brodick route; understands that damage to the Irish Berth at Ardrossan Harbour means that the MV Alfred can no longer operate out of Ardrossan, further reducing route capacity, and notes the calls on the berth’s owner, Peel Ports, to work with North Ayrshire Council, CalMac, CMAL and the Scottish Government to resolve any ongoing disputes surrounding port maintenance; considers that the Ardrossan-Brodick ferry is the busiest ferry route in Scotland, carrying 692,518 passengers in 2022; emphasises what it considers to be the importance of the tourism industry to Arran’s communities; notes the calls for all political parties to ensure that Ardrossan remains the principal port for the Arran route in the long term; understands that the MV Isle of Arran is 40 years old, whilst the MV Caledonian Isles is 31 years old; notes with concern the recently announced delays to the delivery of the Glen Sannox vessel to the route; understands that CalMac paid out £454,165 in 2022-23 in compensation to passengers for delays or cancellations, which was almost eight times the £57,822 paid out in 2017-18; further understands that, between 2017 and 2023, 6,302 sailings were cancelled due to technical issues; understands that the age and condition of CalMac’s vessels has led to a deficiency of spare capacity and resilience across the network; notes the calls for adequate and timely investment to boost the resilience of the fleet, including the commission of the small vessel replacement programme as soon as possible and a prompt resolution to the CHFS contract award that better meets the needs of island communities, and expresses sympathy with islanders who are affected most by disruption to sailings.


Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I repeat the Deputy Presiding Officer’s request that people leave quietly, because my voice is going and I do not want to have to shout.

I thank those members who signed my motion to allow this debate to take place. In seven days’ time, this Parliament will rise for summer recess, and our ability to publicly hold ministers to account will be vastly diminished until September. However, for our constituents, life goes on. For the next two months, it will be peak season for Scottish tourism and Scotland’s island communities, so I make absolutely no apology for using one of our final members’ business debates before recess to discuss the issue of ferries. While we on the mainland will complain about traffic jams as we go about our summer business, our islanders would be grateful for the luxury of slow-moving contraflows.

We can never overestimate the disruption that comes with cancelled ferries, which is why, for many years, I and so many others have relentlessly campaigned on the issue in this Parliament. Since I was first elected, I have asked 115 questions on ferries and have made 180 contributions on that subject in the chamber or in committee. It is astonishing that, nearly a decade on, many of the problems that we debated back when I was first elected are still not resolved; in many ways, they are even worse.

None of that is the fault of islanders, who are beleaguered and have long since lost trust in the Government to fix their ferry services. Neither is it the fault of CalMac Ferries staff, who are part of the fabric of the communities that they sail between and that they serve day in, day out.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers was absolutely right in its submission: abuse of staff on any scale is simply unacceptable. Our ports and the communities around them are the beating hearts of the islands that they serve. Tourists come and go; residents commute to and fro; goods, cattle and produce are exported and imported. CalMac itself, as a ferry operator, has been dealt its hand in this awful game of maritime Jenga because of its ever-ageing fleet, the slow replacement of new vessels, an exploding maintenance bill, stiflingly prescriptive routes and a lack of investment in our port infrastructure.

As far back as 2016, when I joined the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee—as it was then—we as a committee blew up the very notion that the status quo back then was delivering value for money or reliable services. The unholy triangle that was created between CalMac, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd and Transport Scotland, and the intertwining lines of responsibility between those bodies and ministers, simply laid bare the reality that Scotland’s lifeline ferry services were being governed by the most complicated and unproductive quango quagmire in Scottish public body history. At the time, ministers vaguely accepted that damning indictment, and vaguely promised that they would fix those problems—so much so that they introduced the ironically named Islands (Scotland) Bill, which was supposed to put at the centre of public policy the needs of our island communities.

For the past eight years, islanders have lost faith in not just their local politicians but the entire political system. As the old ditty says:

“No man is an island.”

Well, he is if he is stuck on Arran and his ferry has been cancelled.

Here we are, in mid-2024, and this is the reality. For 2017, the vessel maintenance bill was £20 million. Last year, it was more than £42 million. In 2017, £58,000 was paid out in compensation to passengers—fair enough. Last year, that figure topped—wait for it—£0.5 million. That is a tenfold increase. Over the same period, 6,000 sailings have been cancelled for technical reasons alone—nothing to do with our notoriously fickle Scottish weather.

Our islanders do not expect much. They do not expect miracles on high seas and in high winds. They just want things to work when they are supposed to. Is that too much to ask?

Of course, the two new flagship ferries that we desperately await, which should have cost £100 million on an apparently fixed-price contract, now sit at a cost of nearly four times that. If we consider the written-off loans, the fat-cat pay-offs and the consultancy fees, that cost might hit nearly £0.5 billion—for just two ferries. To be honest, I think that 10 small ferries could have been got for the same price. Perhaps the Government, which permanently pleads the poverty of the public purse, might reflect on that.

Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Does Jamie Greene recognise that, as well as the issues with CalMac, there is a ticking time bomb of ferry replacement needs in ferry fleets right across Scotland, including a lot of internal ferry fleets such as in Orkney and Shetland, and that it will cost billions to replace them all?

Jamie Greene

As I said, the maintenance bill is on the increase. There are ferries scooting about our waters that are older than me, which is saying something.

What about the contracts that operate those services? Let us look at the west coast ferry contract. That contract was due for renewal in September this year, but it will not be renewed until perhaps September next year, although it seems to be endlessly delayed under the smokescreen of what I think is nearly a decade-old argument over the state aid rules on whether it can be awarded direct—yet, we still have no decision and no clarification.

I do not now have a personal view on the direct award. I used to, because I always thought that a competitive public procurement exercise would deliver value for money and bring out the best in the incumbent. The last time that CalMac was awarded that contract, it made 350 specific improvement commitments to our island communities, which was admirable. However, I then learned that Transport Scotland did not track progress on any of those. Many of them are yet to be delivered, which is probably not the fault of CalMac, either. Therefore I say to the minister that, before we hand the next contract to CalMac on a plate, we should be realistic about what it can deliver, given its ever-ageing fleet and crumbling ports.

And we wonder why CalMac’s chief executive left. Coming into his job must have been much like becoming the boss of a new airline, only to discover that the aeroplane manufacturer cannot deliver new aircraft, the maintenance workers cannot source any parts, the airports cannot look after the runways, and the Government will force routes and prices on the airline. In any other sector that would be a recipe for disaster. Private operators such as Western Ferries can deliver reliable and cost-effective routes to, for example, Dunoon, at no cost to the public purse, but we cannot get a reliable service to Cumbrae, which involves a journey so short that even I could swim it on a good day—perhaps.

We expect our islanders to say, “Ah, well. It is what it is. That is island life.” However, we should make no bones about it: our islands are suffering. Passenger numbers on the Ardrossan to Arran route have plummeted by 150,000 journeys in three years. North Ayrshire Council tells us that ferry problems cost businesses £170,000 per day in lost revenue. One business has reported losing nearly £500,000—that is the lost revenue of just one business, on just one island, when there are ferry problems. Let me clear, though, that our islands are open for business, because back benchers will accuse many of us of scaremongering by simply stating the reality of those facts. However, the financial and social costs of such disruptions are real.

Since I first took my oath in the Parliament we have had seven transport ministers and three First Ministers. We have had countless damning reports and audits of endless and very public failures. There have been lots of words, and lots of apologies, but there has not been enough listening. That is down to the Government’s failure to deliver a robust, reliable and long-term plan for our islands. It is by far the single biggest failure of duty towards our islands. I take no pleasure in saying that, and I make no apologies for bringing the matter to Parliament again.

We move to the open debate.


Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I congratulate Jamie Greene on securing the debate.

There are

“parts of the media—and the opposition parties—who can’t find a good word to say about the ferries in order to attack the Government, before loudly proclaiming how awful it is that confidence in the service is being lost and that island communities are suffering as a result.”

Those are the words of Tiree-based columnist Rhoda Meek, in a recent article that called attention to people relentlessly attacking the Scottish Government and CalMac over ferries and then expressing surprise about potential island visitors losing confidence and island businesses being damaged.

As an MSP who represents island communities in Arran and Cumbrae, I have hardly been shy about criticising CalMac, the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland when it has been appropriate to do so. However, today’s obviously party-political motion, which was lodged a fortnight after the Prime Minister announced a general election, fools no one.

For the avoidance of doubt, we should not pretend that there are no issues with our ferry network. We need a more island-centred, island-based perspective on such issues. However, we also need to acknowledge the hard work and commitment of CalMac staff, who operate in difficult circumstances, and the incredible work that they do on behalf of passengers, whether they be islanders or visitors to the islands.

I come back to the motion’s mention of Opposition parties. I note that, last week, Mr Greene complained that no Scottish National Party MSP had signed his motion, which is laughable given that Tory members have a policy of refusing to support SNP members’ motions. Mr Greene’s motion introduces absolutely nothing new, and it even makes reference to having this debate

“ahead of the busy summer ... season”

when we are already in that season.

The Arran and Cumbrae economies rely heavily on tourism. Any politician who today proclaims that chaos and disarray exist in the network does so in the clear knowledge that they will undermine the confidence of the visitors on whom those economies rely. There should be a very good reason for their doing so.

The motion refers to the MV Caledonian Isles being out of action until August and to delays to the delivery of the MV Glen Sannox. Those issues have been known about for months. It also mentions

“damage to the Irish Berth at Ardrossan Harbour”.

Not only was that situation announced in February, but the motion’s wording implicitly accepts the ridiculous notion that Peel Ports put forward, which was that the berth’s closure had been caused by CalMac vessels overusing it, as opposed to its own failure to maintain the harbour adequately. In the words of CalMac’s then CEO, Robbie Drummond,

“It’s a berth. That’s what it’s for.”

I appreciate that Mr Greene might not be on top of stakeholder opinion, but why bring a debate to the chamber to bring up long-standing fare issues during the summer season?

The motion’s call for Ardrossan to remain the principal port for Arran helps to guide us towards a motivation other than perceived political advantage, because we were set for a decision on the future of Ardrossan harbour two weeks ago. By calling a snap election, Mr Greene’s party ensured that an announcement was blocked, thanks to the purdah rules imposed on Scottish Government announcements. Deliberations took place on the very day that Mr Greene circulated his motion.

Will the member take an intervention?

If I can have the time back, I am more than happy to take an intervention.

There were two reasons why I lodged this motion for debate in this Parliament—first, because the Government has not and, secondly, because Mr Gibson does not have the backbone to.

That is absolutely pitiful. I was raising issues against my own Government as necessary long before you were even elected as a list member. When were you even last in Arran?

Speak through the chair, Mr Gibson.

Kenneth Gibson

The fleet has issues. It is ageing and it lacks resilience. Community involvement and engagement are at an all-time low. Arran has borne the brunt of the latest round of disruption, while Cumbrae has had to endure a series of technical faults with vessels serving on the Millport to Largs route. A decision on the small vessel replacement programme cannot come quickly enough, but, sadly, today’s debate has nothing to do with a desire to solve any of those issues. It is about a press release from Mr Greene and attacking the Scottish Government and CalMac.

The Tories have been opportunistic on this for years. They mentioned ferries in only two of their first four Holyrood manifestos, one of which called for a budget cut for ferries. If we look at what is happening where they are in power, we should perhaps think about the RMV Scillonian III, which has been waiting for a replacement for many years. It was built in 1977, so it is eight years older than any Scottish ferry, but the Tories refuse to replace it in one of their own constituencies.

It is disappointing that this overtly partisan debate has been brought to the chamber, but those of us who represent and visit our island communities regularly and speak to stakeholders will certainly do our very best for our constituents. This motion is politics at its most base and cynical level, and I have little choice but to call it out as such.


Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

I congratulate Jamie Greene on securing the debate, and I was pleased to sign the motion to give cross-party support to enable the debate to take place. I believe that our constituents think that it is appropriate that we debate these issues before the summer recess.

I, too, am a West Scotland list MSP, I was the MP for North Ayrshire and Arran between 2005 and 2015 and I currently work out of a regional office in Ardrossan, just a few hundred yards from the Ardrossan ferry port. I have therefore represented the islands of Cumbrae and Arran for a number of years and, like other members, I receive regular representations about the ferry service.

It is clear that the problems on the ferry routes have increased significantly in recent years, which has had a massive impact on the lives of islanders, the island economies and, indeed, island tourism. Scottish Labour research found that the number of non-weather-related cancellations trebled in just five years by 237 per cent. CalMac cancelled 1,301 sailings in 2022, which represented an increase of 44 per cent since 2018. There is no doubt about the scale of the problem. Between 2015 and 2023, 6,302 sailings were cancelled for specific technical reasons. The average age of the 37 vessels that are leased to CalMac is 24 years.

There should be consensus across the chamber that we face a significant crisis and that we have to find solutions, ideally on a cross-party basis. Last year, the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee reported high levels of dissatisfaction among users. Issues that were cited included missed school hours, disrupted attendance at medical appointments, the inability to care for ill relatives and friends, cancelled holidays and a range of other problems.

All of us have received representations about things such as bare shelves in supermarkets on Arran over the festive period and representations from constituents outside Arran and Cumbrae about the impact of that on people who holiday on the islands.

The Arran route from Ardrossan is, of course, the busiest route on the network, and its future is currently under threat. The Ardrossan route has been the main route to Arran for 190 years, as it is the shortest, quickest and most convenient route, and transport and infrastructure have developed around it. Therefore, there is strong support for maintaining Ardrossan as the main port for Arran, but the poor condition of the port, particularly the Irish berth, is already causing significant problems. Peel Ports’s closure of the port means that the MV Alfred can operate only from Troon. That leaves the 40-year-old MV Isle of Arran serving the route from Ardrossan.

On the Largs to Cumbrae route, the normal vessel—the MV Loch Shira—has been out of service since April, and a succession of vessels have served the route. Construction will not start on a replacement vessel for that route until 2026. I hope that the Glen Sannox will come into service soon, because it is clear that that will have a massive impact. However, crewing levels and cabin space have still not been agreed with the relevant trade unions, and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers is raising concerns. Given all the other problems that we have had with those issues, I urge the cabinet secretary to ensure that that is addressed and that there is an agreement on staffing levels as a matter of urgency.

Scottish Labour supports a direct award to provide long-term certainty for islanders and the workforce. We urge the Government to include trade unions, including the RMT, in its due diligence in delivering a long-term contract to CalMac. Tendering will not take place within the 12-month framework that the extension provides. We need certainty so that we can focus on the service that islanders receive and ensure that we have a robust and reliable service in the future that will, I hope, be operated in a way that genuinely provides the cross-party support that we need for such services.


Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

I, too, congratulate Jamie Greene on securing this debate. His motion is one of the longest that I have ever read—it would take me nearly three minutes to read it out. I think that I need to give him a lesson on how to make a point succinctly.

To answer what Kenneth Gibson said, it is perfectly in order for any member to lodge a motion of this nature. In Jamie Greene’s case, the motion is of local interest. We can also lodge motions of national interest.

Jamie Greene has raised a number of important points about the reliability of ferries in his patch and the future of Ardrossan as the port for the Arran service. On reliability, the issue of the age of the CalMac fleet has been well rehearsed, as has the issue of the age of ferries elsewhere, as Jamie Halcro Johnston mentioned.

Goodness knows when we will see the two ferries that are being built at the Ferguson yard enter service. The complexity of the build and the fact that they have to use liquefied natural gas as well as diesel have no doubt contributed to delays and costs. The SNP’s green credentials are shattered by the insistence on having a greenhouse gas-emitting fuel that has to be shipped in from Europe and brought up here by road from the south coast. Why ferries that cannot fit into Ardrossan were ordered without any agreement in place to make the harbour ready for them is beyond comprehension.

I see no prospect of Ardrossan being used any time soon. Having listened to Kenneth Gibson, I hope that I am proved wrong and that there is some announcement after the election. I think that the islanders of Arran and anyone who wants to get there had better get used to going to and from Troon, where there has been investment, and I think that most people understand that.

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Does Mr Simpson agree that we need to consider every port in moving forward with the ferries, to ensure that the infrastructure is in place for the fleet of smaller vessels, which will be electric? We have to ensure that the infrastructure is in place. Otherwise, we will keep having these problems.

I can give you the time back, Mr Simpson.

Graham Simpson

I thank Alex Rowley for making that intervention, as he is absolutely right. When we order those small ferries, we would hope that they will be electric. I think that that is the plan. Clearly, the ports have to be ready for that. Alex Rowley is quite correct.

The cabinet secretary will say, I am sure, that we have six ferries on their way. That is true, and it is to be welcomed. Those include the two Ferguson ones and the four that are being built, on time and on budget, in Turkey. They will provide greater reliance for the CalMac fleet, and we will get even more when the order for the seven small ferries is placed. There needs to be a decision on that as soon as the general election campaign is over. In fact, I think that that should have happened before now. Whoever gets that contract—it could go to more than one yard, of course—needs to be able to build the vessels on time and to deliver value for money for islanders.

The Ferguson yard is better placed to build smaller vessels than larger ones, but it requires investment. The former chief executive officer David Tydeman was very clear about that before he was sacked for doing his job. We are yet to hear what the so-called performance issues were that he was accused of by the board chairman—formerly of the massively successful Prestwick airport. The truth will out one day.

Anyway, when I attended the Ferguson’s summit in Greenock with Kate Forbes and others, we were very clear that a decision on that investment needed to be taken within days. It is now over a month later, and nothing has happened, so Ms Forbes and Ms Hyslop need to have their ducks in a row and be ready to work with the rest of us on the two key decisions that I have outlined within the next month.

Jamie Greene is right to raise the issues that he has raised today. I hope that the islanders he represents—and those he does not represent—start to see a better service soon, as they have been let down for too long.


Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I thank my colleagues for raising the on-going issues with CalMac ferry services, and I thank Jamie Greene for securing the debate.

Some of the speeches that we have heard lay bare the consequences of decades of underinvestment and short-term thinking when it comes to our lifeline ferry networks. Our island communities are not just bustling tourist attractions; they are living, breathing communities whose very existence relies on resilient ferry connections. Every cancelled sailing disrupts lives, with missed medical appointments, unstocked shelves and workers unable to reach their jobs. This summer’s capacity reductions are unacceptable.

My constituents in the Highlands and Islands know all too well that the present crisis has been years in the making. The age of our vessels is not just a number; it is a reflection of our commitment to those who rely on our maritime arteries. The MV Isle of Arran is 40 years old, and the Maid of Glencoul, one of the vessels operating the Corran ferry in my region, which is the busiest ferry route in Scotland, will celebrate its golden anniversary in just two years. Although 48 years of service is a credit to the skill of the Clyde shipyard workers and the durability of their work, I am sure that no one in 1976 imagined that their vessel would still be operating in 2024.

Jamie Halcro Johnston

That was a very good point about the Maid of Glencoul and the MV Corran. It is not just island communities that are affected; it is also areas such as the Ardnamurchan peninsula that are suffering. I was there only last weekend, and there were people talking about moving out, so I am pleased that the member made that point.

I can give you the time back, Ms Burgess.

Ariane Burgess

I thank the member for concurring with that.

Those ageing vessels frequently break down, leading to more than 6,000 cancelled sailings since 2017, due to technical faults alone. CalMac had to pay out more than £450,000 last year in passenger compensation, which is eight times the 2017 level. Although the sums involved are a testament to the resilience of our people, they underscore the pressing need for a fleet that can weather the storms of technical issues and climate change.

A fundamental shift is required in order to build resilience and undo the damage of years of neglect. Our weather is getting stormier—a situation that will worsen as climate change begins to bed in—so we need to build climate adaptation into our island transport planning. Farmers, for example, need a ferry booking system that has an alert that lets them know in advance if a ferry is not sailing. Too often, farmers show up with their livestock only to find that they have to turn around and go home. A simple text notification system that communicated information on the morning of the sailing would reduce stress and wasted time for farmers.

It is time for us to chart a course in which the resilience of our fleet matches the indomitable spirit of our communities. The Scottish Green Party has consistently called for investment in low-carbon ferries and in fixed links to future proof our island transport. We need an accelerated small vessel replacement programme to deliver ferries that meet community needs, not just those of tourists. Many communities have their own answers for how to resolve the situation, from significant investment in fixed links to more small-scale adjustments, such as reduced fares and more reserved slots for islanders. They understand the potential of improved ferry connections to boost our island economies, reverse depopulation and build a resilient sustainable transport network that is befitting of a thriving island nation. Another summer of disruption must be a wake-up call.

I share the concerns that have been expressed by colleagues and the RMT that the motion ignores the role of workers in delivering lifeline ferry services in the west of Scotland, which have been compromised by the procurement failures of successive governments. The Scottish Greens will work constructively with all parties—CalMac, trade unions and communities—to design the long-term solutions that our islanders desperately need.

I invite Fiona Hyslop to respond to the debate.


The Cabinet Secretary for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

I start by expressing my thanks to the CalMac crew and front-line staff for their work in delivering lifeline services across the network. As the First Minister noted last week, CalMac is a key part of the maritime fabric of the west coast of Scotland. I add my personal thanks to MV Isle of Arran’s master and crew for their speedy and professional response during the recent incident when a passenger fell overboard as a vessel approached Ardrossan.

I also thank Jamie Greene for securing this important debate. I agree with Graham Simpson and Kenny Gibson that the points that have been raised in the debate have been well rehearsed, but it gives me an opportunity to share with the Parliament as much as I can in the current circumstances. Jamie Halcro Johnston and Ariane Burgess raised issues about council-run ferries, which are not the subject of the motion, so I will focus on west coast ferries.

Scottish ministers accept that, on a number of routes, including the Arran route, communities are not getting the service and capacity that they deserve. That is why we are focused on improving the way that we deliver those services. That includes investment in new tonnage, with six new major vessels due by 2026, and a focus on improved community voice through our intent to directly award the next Clyde and Hebrides ferry services contract to CalMac. I fully understand and appreciate how much the Arran community and economy rely on the ferry service. We are working hard to make improvements and to address the current challenges. I welcome the input and on-going work of the Arran ferry committee in representing the island on ferry issues.

However, it is essential to reiterate the message that Arran is open for business, and encourage people, including foot passengers, to plan and book ahead in order to allow travel on their required sailing, particularly at peak times. I urge people to explore all options that are currently available for travelling to and from Arran, which include the Ardrossan or Troon to Brodick route, as well as the Claonaig to Lochranza route. I have been assured by CalMac that the MV Caledonian Isles is expected to return to service in August, and that the return-to-service date will be announced in due course.

Meanwhile, to support Arran and to provide much-needed capacity at this busy time, Scottish ministers have provided funding for the charter of the MV Alfred, including additional funding to secure extra crew and allow the vessel’s full capacity to be used. Although that still means that there will be a reduced available passenger and vehicle deck capacity, we continue to look at options to make further improvements. That includes planned work by CalMac to allow MV Alfred to take an increased range of vehicle types, maximising services on the secondary route from Lochranza to Claonaig, and work by CMAL, Argyll and Bute Council and other partners to explore possible improvements on the slickway to assist vehicle movement. Although the current situation is far from ideal, I hope that Mr Greene can recognise our efforts to support Arran’s connectivity while MV Caledonian Isles is receiving its extensive repairs.

With regard to Ardrossan port, we have been progressing the Ardrossan business case and cost exercise, and I have met Arran stakeholders as well as convening a task force meeting. At that meeting, members, including Kenneth Gibson MSP, shared their views on the ferry service, making the case for remaining at Ardrossan and for a decision on that to be taken as soon as possible. I assure colleagues that the business case is substantially complete, and Transport Scotland is working with funding partners to finalise it. We do not anticipate an announcement on the project until after the pre-election period.

During my visits and meetings with island communities, they made it clear to me that they—rightly—have high expectations of transport services to meet their transport connectivity needs. The most immediate priority is to ensure that we have reliable and resilient ferry fleets, and that is clear in the draft islands connectivity plan and reflected in the feedback to the public consultation, which recently closed.

Does the cabinet secretary consider that there may be an extension, or has any extension been considered, for the MV Alfred, given that it has been taken off its normal route in Orkney?

Fiona Hyslop

With regard to considerations, those discussions will take place between CalMac and the owners of MV Alfred and will include reflection on capacity needs, capability and the return of MV Caledonian Isles.

I can assure members that the Government will take all issues very seriously. With regard to MV Alfred and MV Arrow, we have provided additional resilience and capacity across the network to date.

Members will know that the two new vessels, MV Glen Sannox and MV Glen Rosa, have been secured for the Arran community, and that on 31 May, the new interim CEO of Ferguson Marine updated Parliament on progress with the vessels.

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

Very briefly.

Would the cabinet secretary be willing to look at the issues that the RMT is raising in relation to crewing levels on the Glen Sannox and the issue of due diligence in relation to the direct award?

I will give you the time back, cabinet secretary.

Fiona Hyslop

I have already said in an answer in the chamber that I meet regularly the ferry unions and they have direct input in relation to the award. They raised the issue of crewing levels some time back, and I know that Transport Scotland will make sure that, in preparing for the roll-out of the new ferries, that issue will be addressed.

Consideration of the business case and the procurement approach for the small vessel replacement programme is on-going. Due to the pre-election guidance, we will not be able to make any announcement on the SVRP before early July. We recognise the importance of that project and will—as Mr Simpson requested—confirm the position as soon as possible.

The motion mentions the new Clyde and Hebrides ferry service contract. I refer members to the answer that was given to the Parliament on 30 May. I have agreed to the implementation of an extension of the current contract of up to 12 months to enable the relevant due diligence work, and the associated Scottish Government assurance processes to be concluded prior to a final decision being made on the next CHFS contract. I was clear that the extension period would not be simply business as usual, and Transport Scotland is already working with CalMac to develop an enhancement and change plan with a consensus on the areas that will be addressed during the extension. Those include enhanced community voice, improved transparency through performance reporting, strengthened regionalisation and enhanced customer satisfaction.

As community engagement will be essential throughout the life of these services, I met the ferries community board on 12 June to discuss its priorities, and Transport Scotland is engaging with the board to explore how its role can be enhanced.

The current situation is a challenge, as we undoubtedly know. However, it is important that we highlight the six new vessels that will be delivered by 2026 to serve not just Arran, but Islay and the Little Minch, and which will have an impact across the whole network. I also look forward to seeing the improvements that will be realised through the new CHFS arrangements and the delivery of the islands connectivity plan.

I reiterate that we must all get behind our islands and say with a united voice that they are open for business.

That concludes the debate.

13:24 Meeting suspended.  

14:30 On resuming—