The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee is calling for investment in the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services to be prioritised in the upcoming budget, and for there to be an urgent review of the Ferries Plan, to ensure island communities are properly served.
The Committee heard evidence that ferry services and ferry infrastructure have suffered from a lengthy period of underinvestment, and that, over the last ten years, less than half the amount of required funding has been received in order to deliver a managed process of vessel replacement and port infrastructure improvements.
The Committee has been taking evidence as part of their work to identify the issues which need to be addressed in the Scottish Government's forthcoming budget. The Committee has now written to the Scottish Government with recommendations, calling for investment in ferries and port infrastructure to improve resilience, reliability and for constraints across the service to be prioritised.
Edward Mountain MSP, Convener of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee said:
"More investment must be put into Clyde and Hebrides ferry services. Ferries are a vital service to the islands and a linchpin for the ongoing sustainability of island communities and economies. We recommend developing a managed and ongoing approach to the procurement of new vessels to reduce the average age across the fleet and to improve the delivery and reliability of ferry services.
"It is essential that lifeline ferry links deliver services that are truly fit for purpose and that fully meet the needs of island communities, businesses and tourism. Failure to fund these ferry services could lead to a decline in island populations and result in increased costs to business and difficulties accessing healthcare, education and basic services."
The Committee heard evidence from CalMac that the lack of capacity across the aging fleet offers little resilience in case of emergency. Concerns were also raised about the fleet not being fully accessible for those with reduced mobility or for families with young children in push chairs.
It also heard that the record number of passengers in recent years, as a result of the introduction of the Road Equivalent Tariff, has put an additional strain on services and port infrastructure leading to some islanders being unable to book passage.
Some of the recommendations from the Committee include:
- In anticipation of the budget publication in December, the Committee recommends that the Scottish Government prioritise ferries investment with a focus on procuring new vessels to reduce the average age across the fleet and improve service reliability.
- Calling on the Scottish Government to respond to criticisms of the lack of resilience in the fleet and to the evidence that (Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd) CMAL has received less than half the amount of funding required over the last 10 years.
- Conducting an urgent review of the Ferries Plan to meet current and future needs. It is essential that the strategy is supported by a delivery plan that includes a realistic and achievable programme of funding, which will give confidence to island communities and other ferry users.
- Reflecting on whether it may be more appropriate to procure a larger number of smaller vessels as opposed to larger, more expensive vessels, to meet future needs on certain routes.
Notes to editors
The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee's pre-budget scrutiny inquiry focused on the level of investment in Clyde and Hebrides ferry services. It came on the back of recent significant disruption which highlighted the limited resilience of the fleet.
The Scottish Government published its Ferries Plan on 19 December 2012. This made recommendations on where investment should be focused to improve connections and journey times for island and remote rural communities. It also sets out proposals to develop ferry services and assets between 2013 and 2022, at an estimated cost of £390 million in capital and £10 million a year in revenue.
CMAL stated that a significant increase in investment would be required to ensure a properly managed process of vessel replacement and improvements to ports infrastructure. It stated that annual investment of £30m for vessels and £20m for ports/harbours each year would be required, whereas over the last ten years it has received about half of that amount.
As part of its scrutiny into Clyde and Hebrides ferry investment the Committee issued an online survey which received 208 responses. It also received 13 detailed responses in response to its call for views. Further information on these responses are available on the Committee's website.
Read the letter from the Committee in full.
Visit the Committee's webpages.