FMQs: Humza Yousaf considering compensating Scottish islanders for ferry disruption
Humza Yousaf is considering compensating islanders on South Uist hit by ferry disruption.
The First Minister said the move was “not off the table”, but would require a “very stark choice” to be made about funding priorities.
Islanders have expressed outrage over CalMac’s decision to cut this month’s sailings between Mallaig and Lochboisdale.
MV Lord Of The Isles, the ferry that serves the route, has instead been moved to Islay due to the regular vessel there requiring repairs.
CalMac has apologised and increased sailings on alternative routes, with Robbie Drummond, its chief executive, due to visit South Uist next week.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross raised the issue during First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood on Thursday and called for islanders to be compensated.
He highlighted reports quoting Christina Morrison, who owns the Croft and Cuan food business near the Lochboisdale ferry terminal. She said: “We don't want compensation, we need compensation.”
Mr Ross said: “The SNP failures risk driving people away from island communities. Does the First Minister recognise it is not only businesses that need compensation, but everyone who has had their lives turned upside down by these cancellations?
“The failure of Humza Yousaf’s party to build a working ferry network is causing chaos. The SNP’s failure to deliver a working ferry network is ruining lives, damaging businesses, costing jobs and driving islanders to despair. So why shouldn’t everyone affected be compensated for the SNP’s mistakes?”
Responding, Mr Yousaf said he recognised the disruption caused to islanders.
He said: “Of course we will look at what we can do to support businesses. I had looked previously at the issue of compensation. It’s been raised in this chamber, rightly so, by a number of MSPs across the political chamber.
"The reason why we haven’t, for example, brought forward compensation is because the money that is deducted from CalMac in terms of penalties and fines – what we do is we reinvest that back into the resilience of the network.”
Mr Yousaf added: “I will continue to listen to the calls for how we can support business. As I say, it’s not off the table, because we know the community in South Uist do often get affected when there is ferry disruption. So I will continue to keep an open mind on that question, and, of course, CalMac are doing everything they can, in their gift, to ensure that they bolster the resilience of the network.”
Mr Yousaf later said questions about compensation were “very fair”, adding: “I have looked at the issue around compensation, but what I would say – and I’m happy of course to re-examine the issue – but any such scheme would need to be carefully considered, because it then would require a very stark choice to be made about those funding priorities.”
CalMac’s ageing fleet of ferries have seen services impacted by breakdowns, with this sometimes resulting in vessels being taken off one route to serve another.
Mr Yousaf said the system used by CalMac to determine which ferries were taken off to serve other communities had often impacted South Uist. He confirmed this “route prioritisation matrix” would “absolutely be reviewed”.
Mr Yousaf said this meant when there were those “unfortunate occasions where there is a breakdown of a ferry”, in future it would not always be South Uist that loses out.
His comments came as Mr Ross told him: “There are so many cases of so many businesses and so many individuals affected by this throughout our island communities and the blame lies squarely at the door of the SNP.”
The First Minister responded: “I completely understand the impact and affect this disruption is having on the community of South Uist. We will continue to engage with the communities of South Uist on where we can support businesses and livelihoods and will absolutely explore what more can be done.”
It came as the Scottish Government was attacked over failures of transparency around its handling of a committee inquiry into the ferries fiasco.
Public audit committee convener Richard Leonard accused the Government of having an "unhealthy disrespect" for the Scottish Parliament due to how it handled the inquiry.
The committee found Derek Mackay, the former transport minister, had demonstrated poor judgement while in post and was heavily critical of the Government's approach to the procurement and management since of the Glen Sannox and hull 802.
The two ferries, five years’ late and three times over budget, are set to be introduced to the main CalMac fleet by the end of next year.
Mr Leonard said: "Delays occurred in securing the attendance of some senior civil servants, delays occurred in receiving evidence from Transport Scotland with little or no explanation provided for late or incomplete information.
"Correspondence which could not be found for the committee later turned up in response to an FOI [Freedom of Information] review. So let me be as clear as I can be; if a committee of this Parliament seeks evidence from the Government, it should be provided in full.
"It should not be dependent on a member of the public or the press posing the same question."
He added: "Taken together these actions show a serious disregard for openness and transparency. They also demonstrate an unhealthy disrespect for the work of this Parliament."
Neil Gray, the economy secretary, rejected criticism about the Government's approach to the report by the committee. He said the Government was in the process of making improvements to transparency.
Mr Gray said: "The Scottish Government is committed to transparency and has pro-actively published more than 200 documents on its website and we have cooperated at every stage of the PAC inquiry, as well as those previously undertaken by the rural economy and connectivity committee.
"This Government will continue to focus on the replacement of the ferry fleet and improving service delivery with communities at the heart of that process."
Craig Hoy, the Scottish Conservative member of the committee, said the ferries fiasco was a "series of bad decisions and poor practice" that had left communities high and dry.
He said: "Long-established procurement processes simply not followed, a sorry story of key decisions not being properly recorded, of ministers failing to account for the decisions they take, of key documents going missing, of the ministerial code broken, the biggest blank cheque in the history of the Scottish Parliament being written, standard maritime construction processes dismissed, financial safeguards and standard builder's refund guarantee simply disregarded.
"This is a story of an SNP Government failing to respond time and time again, openly and transparently, to legitimate questions."
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