On Thursday morning at Holyrood, Mike Russell MSP, Bill Calderwood (Isle of Arran Ferry Committee), Islay McEachern and Jim Porteous (both Isle of Islay Ferry Committee) and Kenneth Gibson MSP met with Paul Wheelhouse MSP (Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands) and Transport Scotland to discuss the ongoing problems of ferry reliability on both Arran and Islay.
Island communities rely on their lifeline ferry services and disruption is impacting on the quality of life for islanders, tourism, business, farming and the provision of public services.
On Arran, disruption has been widespread with waste collection, care provision, tourist bookings, and cargo shipments all affected. This creates great personal and economic difficulties.
Possible solutions include an additional vessel in the fleet; a commitment that CalMac will not reduce services, e.g. even if they are a boat down, they should add extra sailings earlier and later where possible, with a trained relief crew to help meet demand.
On behalf of the Government, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, who has only been responsible for ferries for four weeks, acknowledged how serious this situation is and expressed a desire to deliver solutions. Repairs should be carried out more rapidly, with the time taken to source spare parts reduced.
The ferry budget under the SNP has trebled from £44,006,809 in 2007/08 to £130,623,512 in 2007/8. However, Kenneth Gibson MSP and Michael Russell MSP raised concerns that the investment in improvements such as RET, additional ferries and the increased frequency of sailings is being undermined by poor reliability.
It was agreed that the Scottish Government will bring forward an Action Plan to support CalMac to restore reliability and normal timetables after several mechanical breakdowns.
Kenneth Gibson MSP said:
“We had a frank and robust discussion.
“Mr Wheelhouse has only been in post a few weeks but he took on board all our concerns and expressed his determination to deliver in the short, medium and long-term for the people of Arran, Islay and indeed all the islands. The current difficulties have been intolerable and everyone agreed to work together to ensure they are resolved with the minimum chance of a reoccurrence.”