Ferry Crisis Ongoing For Western Coast Ferries
10th September 2021
A new ferry could be on the horizon it was revealed on Thursday after Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant cornered Transport Minister Graeme Dey MSP in the Holyrood Chamber, demanding to know when the Scottish Government was going to increase ferry capacity across the West Coast Network.
Following the initial question, Mr Dey tried to herald the removal of Covid restrictions and the introduction of the MV Arrow, which CalMac are third in the queue of contracts to call on, as solutions to the long running complaints of lack of capacity.
But Mrs Grant came back saying: "Our island communities in the west have suffered for a number of years due to lack of capacity and reliable ferries. This year the addition of Covid 19 has taken the service to breaking point with many people unable to travel. This is unacceptable; it damages the economy and blights lives.
“The Scottish Government have so far failed to increase capacity and I would like to ask what steps they are now taking to procure additional capacity over and above that provided by the MV Arrow in the short term to alleviate these communities' issues?"
Mr Dey advised that CMAL and CALMAC representatives were currently out of the country assessing the viability of a new vessel to purchase which could act as an essential back up vessel through the summer months and provide additional tonnage throughout the year.
Mrs Grant cautiously welcomed the announcement saying: “Mr Dey advised is that ‘if’ negotiations for this new vessel are completed it will alleviate some pressure in the network. ‘If’ is a big word in the SNP vocabulary, and while I desperately hope that this will work out for the sake of the communities, I am painfully aware of the awkward specification issues facing CalMac as a result of CMAL’s scattergun approach to vessel and pier commissioning. I will celebrate when the vessel is docked in Scotland and not before.”
Mrs Grant continued: “Even if this vessel is secured and the SNP once again manages to patch over its atrocious lack of strategic management, we have to be cautious and keep up the pressure so that we do reach another crisis stage as we have done this year. Passenger numbers on the ferry network are hitting record highs year and year, and this is to be welcomed - our communities should be promoted and enjoyed – but the infrastructure and the investment needs to be there to support it.
“The ferry fleet programme is years behind where it should be to provide a reliable and robust service. One or two boats are not going to address the crux of the matter – we need a properly thought out and developed strategy and purchase programme.”