Scotland islanders are “sick of the disruption, delay and cancellations” to lifeline ferry services, with calls for greater investment from the Scottish Government.
MSPs raised concerns over the “long-term” problems for the services on the Clyde and Hebridean routes including claims that publicly-owned operator CalMac has received just half the funding it needs, during a Holyrood debate yesterday.
It came as a damning report was published by Holyrood’s Rural Affairs and connectivity committee which warned services have suffered a “lengthy period of underinvestment” over the past decade. The replacement of vessels has suffered, along with the maintenance of ports.
More than 70,000 sailings had been delayed or cancelled over ten years, it emerged yesterday
Read more: Over 70,000 ferries delayed or cancelled since 2007, figures show
Committee convenor Edward Mountain has written to ministers calling for more investment to improve reliability of ferries for islanders.
“More investment must be put into Clyde and Hebrides ferry services,” he said.
Ferries are a vital service to the islands and a lynchpin 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.”
Read more: Ferry firm refuses to pay extra cash amid political row
Scotland’s ferries have seen a record number of passengers in recent years as a result of the introduction of the Road Equivalent Tariff, putting “additional strain” on services and ports. It has meant some islanders have often been unable to get crossings.
Opposition MSPs backed calls for action as they hit out at the shortcomings in the ferry services at Holyrood yesterday.
Labour’s transport spokesman Colin Smyth said Scotland’s ferry services had suffered a “Summer of discontent” as a result cancellations to services.
“Our ferry network is not fit for purpose despite, at times, the quite heroic efforts of staff to keep those ferries going.”
Islands minister Paul Wheelhouse said ministers were not being complacent about the issues facing services.
“We published our ferries plans in 2012 - that was an ambitious, long-term strategy for investment in ferries.”
He added that over £1.4 billion has been invested in supporting ferries, meaning new routes have been introduced along with additional sailings in response to increased demand.
He added; “We’re delivering but it will take time to deliver in full.”
Eight new ferries have been added to CalMac’s fleet since 2007, the minister added, with two further vessels also commissioned at a cost of £215 million.