CalMac 'spend £4m in just eight months' on unplanned ferry maintenance

The Scottish Conservatives have described the rising bill as a 'colossal scandal'.

CalMac ‘spend £4m in just eight months’ on unplanned ferry maintenance, figures show iStock

CalMac spent almost £4m on unplanned ferry maintenance over an eight-month period, according to figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives.

A freedom of information request from the party found the ferry operator spent £3.85m on unscheduled work between April and November 2023.

This compares with £3.05m that was spent on unplanned maintenance in the 2022/23 financial year.

Between April and November 2023, an additional £17.68m was spent on planned maintenance.

Scottish Conservative shadow transport minister Graham Simpson said: “This huge increase in unplanned maintenance costs is the inevitable consequence of the SNP government’s rampant neglect of islanders, and the lifeline ferries on which they rely.

“Much of CalMac’s fleet is at or beyond the end of its natural life, and is therefore prone to break down.

“This unplanned maintenance is not only taking money away from CalMac’s other priorities and imposing costs on the Scottish taxpayer – it means that islanders have to suffer unreliable and frequently disrupted services.

“The SNP-Green government’s mismanagement of ferries – in procurement, replacement, funding and maintenance – is a colossal scandal.

“It has cost hundreds of millions of pounds, inflicted huge damage on island economies, crippled tourism, and caused needless misery for some of our most vulnerable and neglected communities.”

Repair and upkeep costs for CalMac’s fleet have risen due to the age of some of its vessels.

The company’s chief executive, Robbie Drummond, said: “With one-third of our 35 vessels operating beyond their life expectancy, we are investing heavily in both planned and unplanned maintenance as we work hard to provide the best possible service we can to the communities and customers we serve.

“This investment in maintenance grew to well over £43m in 2023, compared with just £20m in 2017.

“We are looking forward to welcoming a total of six major and ten small vessels into the fleet over the next five years. 

“However, we face a difficult period as we wait in anticipation for them to be fully operational on the network.  In the meantime, we will continue to work in partnership with local stakeholders and communities to ensure the best possible outcomes for all who rely on our services.”

The FOI comes as the Glen Sannox, one of the delayed ferries being built at Ferguson Marine, left its shipyard berth in order to begin sea trials.

The ferry, which will one day take passengers to and from Arran, left the Port Glasgow yard on Tuesday – heading to a nearby dry dock.

It is expected to begin longer voyages up and down the Clyde on Wednesday and Thursday.

The beginning of the manufacturer’s sea trials marks an important milestone for the project to build two new ferries for CalMac’s fleet.

Costs for Glen Sannox and sister ship Glen Rosa have more than tripled to at least £360m and they are expected to be delivered around six years late.

Further tests will need to take place before the ferry, which has capacity for 852 passengers, can begin serving the island route.

It remains unclear when Glen Sannox will be handed over to its owners, as earlier this month the chief executive of Ferguson Marine said there had been delays in installing parts of the ship’s liquified natural gas (LNG) system.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “Maintenance spend is a requirement of all ferry fleets spend and CalMac are investing additional sums to improve fleet sustainability and to provide a more resilient service for customers and communities, ensuring all planned and unplanned maintenance can be met.

“Our Islands Connectivity Plan has been published for consultation, looking at a wide range of issues, from improving fleet reliability and monitoring performance, to reducing carbon emissions and making future contracts more flexible to respond to community needs.

“We recognise the impact that delays and disruption have regrettably had on our island communities and are committed to investing in our ferry services.

“Delivering six new major vessels to serve Scotland’s ferry network by 2026 is a priority for this government. We have invested more than £2bn in our ferry services since 2007 and we have outlined plans to invest around £700m in a five-year plan to improve ferry infrastructure.

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

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