Islanders 'don't believe ferry system is set up to benefit them'

There is an 'overriding feeling' among coastal communities that the present system does not work, a report has found.

The vast majority of island communities believe the current ferry system in Scotland is not set up to benefit them, a report has found.

The findings, detailed in the Communities Report on the Future Management of Ferries, called for an immediate reset in the relationship between those running the ferry network and those using it.

It found an “overriding feeling” within coastal communities that the present system does not work.

It follows the release of Project Neptune last year which made several recommendations to the Scottish Government on its management of the ferries network.

They included considering the introduction of an independent commissioner or regulator as well as the integration of Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) and David MacBrayne Ltd (DML), which run the network alongside Transport Scotland.

Angus Campbell, the chair of the Ferries Communities Board who filed the report, said ferry users felt those making decisions about the network were too far removed from the communities they serve.

Ferry users feel those making decisions on the network are too far removed from the communities they serve, a report has found.STV News

He reported that the current system encourages self-interest, territorial behaviour and an “abdication” of responsibility.

“A top-down decision making process often not informed by those affected can bring bad decisions for both users and the operator and the public purse,” it said.

Mr Campbell said many ferry users felt those making decisions are not equipped with the full range of necessary skills.

He said: “First-hand knowledge of island life and having direct maritime experience are seen as a necessary part of skills set largely missing at the moment.”

This led to the wider impact of ferry disruption being overlooked, he said.

“The anxiety caused and the social damage is often not equated,” he added.

“The effect on population and demographics can negate other Government interventions in this area.

“Almost every island had examples of people leaving directly attributed to poor ferry services.”

The report said there was community support for a ferries regulator, which could provide independent oversight.

Coastal communities would like to see an independent ferries regulator introduced, the report found.Caledonian MacBrayne

Change is needed within the structure of the system, Mr Campbell said.

But he added that alone is not enough.

“Structural change is essential as detailed in the recommendations but that alone will not capture the improvements needed,” the report said.

“The wider recommendations must be progressed simultaneously including the need for that culture change or we will simply be moving the deckchairs.

“The gains of such a change are not just for islanders but will help achieve many wider priorities.

“Health and wellbeing, equality, education, depopulation and growing the economy all of which will benefit through islands having fit for purpose ferry services.”

A spokesperson for Transport Scotland said: “We welcome this report and thank Angus Campbell and everyone from our island communities who took the time to engage in this process.

“As we said previously, it’s important that improvements to the delivery of our ferry services stem from islander input.

“We will now carefully consider the report’s recommendations as we progress the work on our Islands Connectivity Plan and Project Neptune and we will provide an update to Parliament later this year.

“We share the desires of island communities for sustainable and effective ferry services and look forward to continuing our constructive engagement with them in the future.”

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