In the Chamber: Ferry Services (31st October 2018)

Rhoda’s speech in the Scottish Parliament debate :
Ferry Services
31 October 2018
I, too, pay tribute to the staff who provide lifeline ferry services, both onshore and at sea.
Those who work onshore often take the brunt of the Scottish Government’s failures when ferries are delayed and cancelled, so they need our special thanks for dealing with that and for helping customers who do not get to sail.
Our ferries are not an end in themselves; their purpose is to provide lifeline services.
Our island communities and some of our peninsulas are totally dependent on ferry services.
Without them, people could no longer live on those islands. We do not have to go very far back in time to see what happened on St Kilda, where people were evacuated from their homes and their communities because they could not access lifeline services.
That is not a desirable situation.
It is essential that the Scottish Government acts to make sure that other communities do not face the same situation—or, indeed, the chaos that the islands faced this summer.
To highlight those issues, we would need a much longer debate, so I will emphasise just one or two issues.
There needs to be a much more transparent approach to financing ferries. We have seen the controversy around the funding of the Loch Seaforth and its ownership after a seven-year lease ends.
What is the cost of the vessel?
Surely it would have been much more cost effective to have gone with the community’s preferred solution of having two ships.
That point was highlighted by Colin Smyth.
Jackie Baillie talked about the dispute with Ferguson’s over the Glen Sannox and the unnamed hull 802 that will serve the Uig triangle.
What is the dispute about?
Is it really a deficient design?
If so, who is responsible for it?
The money put aside for those two ships is £97 million and Ferguson’s is now telling us that the cost could well be double that.
We need new ships to deal with demand, which has increased hugely due to tourism;
Jamie Greene talked about that in his opening speech.
That increase due to tourism is very much welcome but we need the capacity to deal with it because locals cannot access ferries—they cannot get to hospital; they miss funerals, as Edward Mountain said; and they are not able to see their families.
I have suggested before that, to deal with such emergencies, some ferry places be reserved for locals at peak times and then released closer to the sailing time.
I have also heard of stories where people have tried to book on a ferry that is apparently full, only to discover from friends who were on that sailing that there was space on the boat.
Although locals go on to the standby list, many of them cannot take that risk in emergency situations and choose to fly instead, at a greater cost. We need to look at how we manage ferry bookings.
Reliability has come up again and again in the debate.
This summer started with the issues with the Clansman.
There was disruption on many routes for many months, including before the summer kicked in.
We had 2,326 cancellations between January and July, which is far too many.
I think that it was Jamie Greene who said that there have been 70,000 cancellations since the SNP took office.
That is not good enough for our island communities.
The problems have continued into the autumn:
Alasdair Allan talked about the recent issues for Uist and Harris.
There is no capacity in the fleet to deal with those issues.
There is no additional ferry that can be brought in.
We have been asking the Scottish Government for a number of years to look at introducing an additional vessel, especially for the Ullapool to Lewis route over the summer, but it told us that it could not find one.
The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Will you come to a close, please?
Rhoda Grant:
My office googled and found one within five minutes, but the Scottish Government could not negotiate the terms of a lease.
I emphasise that our islands deserve better.
These are lifeline routes and people depend on them for their way of life.