I have asked why it has taken so long for Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for the Islands is to address a Forum on the Western Isles Ferry provision.
Whilst I welcome the news that Paul Wheelhouse will eventually address questions on this severe issue, I am perplexed as to why he did not address it during his recent visit and indeed why Alasdair Allan, at that point, to bring it to his attention. This is not a new problem.
This visit comes on the back of the sustained pressure from many stakeholder groups including Outer Hebrides Tourism, CNES, the Business community, Islanders and Scottish Labour. Only last week I challenged the Minister to be transparent on the funding fiasco surrounding the MV Loch Seaforth.
We have been fighting for action to address the severe capacity restrictions which damages the fabric of ordinary life for Islanders whilst losing the fragile economies millions of pounds each year through the thwarting of tourism initiatives.
The resilience of the fleet is simply non-existent and we have seen services removed and disrupted at short notice.
To simply claim that there has been investment in the past does not hold water given that recent new ferries have seen severe delays in delivery and extortionate amounts being spent on ports to accommodate these new designs, not to mention the £53 Million being spent to in effect hire the Loch Seaforth from Lloyd’s bank for eight years.
Every time a new ferry is commissioned it results in millions of pounds being spent having to accommodate the design of the boats.
Against all opinion and advise SNP Ministers decided on a single large ferry for the Stornoway route rather than 2 smaller ferries which would have fitted the existing port facilities and provided resilience to other routes during planned maintenance. Surely if the advice had been heeded we would not find ourselves in this Perfect Storm.