'Island communities struggling due to mismanagement of ferries'

Services have been disrupted due to a series of technical faults.

‘Island communities struggling due to mismanagement of ferries’ iStock

Businesses and families living in island communities are struggling to acquire essential supplies amid a slew of ferry breakdowns and cancellations, it has been claimed.

An ageing fleet of vessels has seen a number of technical faults with knock-on disruption to services.

Earlier this month, business owners in the Western Isles told STV News that ongoing breakdowns, suspensions and cancellations were having a “devastating” effect on trade and tourism.

Two new ferries, being built at the Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow, have also still not been delivered, while running significantly over-budget.

At the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, MSPs will debate the issue, with members of the opposition calling for a “concrete strategy” to tackle the crisis.

Transport Scotland has acknowledged that breakdowns and delays are “not acceptable”, while stating that work is continuing on procuring more vessels.

The debate is being brought forward by the Scottish Conservatives.

The party’s transport spokesman Graham Simpson warned that islands residents are not able to trust in supplies of everyday essentials due to the ferries chaos.

“The SNP wants to know how to stop population declines on our islands, but it is obvious to everyone that at least part of the problem is their failure to deliver essential transport links for island communities,” he said.

“The SNP government has failed to procure desperately-needed replacement ferries and refused to commit adequate long-term funding for Scotland’s ferry provision.

“As a result, breakdowns and delays have sky-rocketed. Now, island residents can’t even trust in supplies of essentials like bread and milk, and tourism and investment has been decimated.”

Simpson suggested that the SNP are hoping to “bury their heads in the sand” over the issue.

He said: “The two unfinished ferries in Ferguson Marine may never see service as a result of continued faults, despite costs spiralling to £250m.

“The Ferguson Marine scandal may appear farcical, but the SNP are wreaking lasting damage on Scotland’s island communities with their incompetence.”

Simpson added: “The SNP keep hoping that they can bury their heads in the sand and wait for this scandal to blow over, all the while residents suffer the consequences.

“The Scottish Conservatives are bringing a debate on Wednesday to stand up for these communities and force the SNP to finally set out a concrete strategy to get a grip of this crisis.”

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Scottish Liberal Democrats found that there were 7,431 cancelled sailings between January and July this year.

On the Glex Sannox route, as of July 31, there were 990 cancelled or late sailings.

Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ economy spokesman, insisted that the Government must invest in island communities.

A long-term plan for replacing vessels must also be put together, the party’s former leader argued.

“The SNP are letting our island communities suffer as they continue to mismanage Scotland’s ferry network,” he said.

“Businesses can’t get the supplies they need and families are struggling to get to critical medical appointments.

“Over the summer, Scottish Liberal Democrats called for parliament to be recalled so that ministers could explain why years of underinvestment were allowed to lead us here. They didn’t listen.

“The Scottish Government need to invest in island ferries and put together a long-term plan for replacing boats which have been in use for decades.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said investment has been made to add additional ferry capacity.

“The vast majority of CalMac ferries run on time and to schedule, but breakdowns and delays are not acceptable,” they said.

“That’s why we’ve invested to provide additional capacity on the Clyde and Hebrides routes.

“We are also continuing to work on procuring more vessels, while the four new ferries we have ordered are being built.”

They continued: “The Scottish Government has provided over £2bn of support to our ferry networks since 2007 – there and more vessels and more routes running than ever before.

“Quite evidently, the start of 2022 coincided with some of the worst weather impacts on record and Covid-related absences compounded service delivery.

“In response, ministers have approved additional finance to support weather monitoring equipment, as announced in the chamber earlier this month.”

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