10 September 2008

S3M-2496 Ferry Services [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 10 September 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]

... ... ...

Ferry Services

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-2496, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee's 4th report 2008, on ferry services in Scotland.


... ... ...


The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): In responding to the outcome of the committee's inquiry, I was delighted to report that we are now pursuing our own comprehensive ferries review in Scotland, which will develop a long-term strategy for lifeline ferry services. Indeed, there is the urgency that the committee's convener looks for in our taking that forward. The review will, of course, be completed before there is a new contract. The evidence that was taken by the committee and the committee's recommendations—all valuable work—will be used to inform the review.

The review will include detailed consideration of funding, costs and affordability; procurement of lifeline ferry services; services and routes; fares; vessels; ports and harbours; accessibility; environmental issues; integration; lifeline air routes; and freight. It will also consider how lifeline ferry services should best be delivered, by which I mean that it will consider the correct split of responsibilities between the Scottish Government, local authorities, operators and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd. Of course, the review will also consider the issue of competition.

I have previously spoken out in support of CalMac and against the break-up of the ferry network. I remain supportive of the current structure. Nevertheless, I think that it is important to test whether the continued bundling of routes is the correct way forward. Therefore, the review will consider whether routes should be opened up to competition from commercial providers.

Arrangements are now being made to put in place a steering group for the review. We will invite representatives from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Highlands and Islands transport partnership, Strathclyde partnership for transport, Zetland transport partnership, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and others. The relevant councils, operators and other key stakeholders will also have the opportunity to participate in and contribute to the process.

On-board surveys on a number of ferry services—both private and those that are provided by us—have already started to capture initial data to inform the review. There will be a public consultation on the strategy next summer, and the review will conclude next autumn.

I met the boards of David MacBrayne Ltd and CalMac Ferries Ltd on 30 July. We had constructive discussions, and the board of David MacBrayne, which is responsible for CalMac and Northlink Ferries, looks forward to working with the Scottish Government to achieve early progress on adjusting timetables and frequency of services to better meet the needs of ferry users; improving communication and co-ordination between ferry, train and bus operators; promoting more effective consultation of ferry users by operators; improving accessibility of ferries and passenger facilities for those in our communities with mobility difficulties; and improving ferry operators' standards of service. The convener of the committee referred to many of those aspects in his speech.

I am delighted to say that we are responding to the agenda for speeding up some changes. In the short term, we have made a number of improvements to the current timetable for Clyde and Hebrides ferry services, resulting in CalMac recently announcing 13 changes to the timetable. As the convener requested, those changes are focused on achieving better integration with bus and rail services and improving connectivity for businesses.

However, one of the most important changes is a change to the Oban to Lismore service, which will allow school pupils to commute daily rather than having to live in hostels in Oban. Patrick Harvie also referred to that in his speech.

The winter timetable will also see CalMac carrying bicycles for free for the first time, which is a significant gesture in supporting green, sustainable travel and a welcome boost to that sector of the tourism market.

Those changes have all been made following consultation with the communities concerned and demonstrate the flexibility in the contract. We are able to make changes to the timetable and improve services to better meet the needs of ferry users.

The winter timetable will also see the introduction of the road equivalent tariff pilot. RET has been a long-standing objective of the Scottish National Party. We understand the genuine concerns from our remote and fragile communities about the affordability of ferry fares and the impact that those fares have on island economies. The SNP's manifesto contained a commitment to

"Commission a study into Road Equivalent Tariff (RET), reporting on options for improved connection to our Northern Isles and Western Isles by end of 2007."

Our manifesto also said:

"As part of this we will undertake a pilot project on RET to the Western Isles which will include support for freight and tourist journeys."

We are delivering on that manifesto commitment.

The RET pilot study, along with the ferries review, will consider the scope for rationalising fares and will also consider how fares adjustments can provide greater support for particularly vulnerable island communities.

I understand that the committee took the ferry from Rosyth to Zeebrugge during its investigations. The Scottish Government is working very closely with Forth Ports and others to identify an alternative commercial operator for the Rosyth to Zeebrugge route. We will continue to do everything possible to secure a successful outcome. There have been constructive discussions so far with potential operators. Those discussions are continuing as we look to find a commercial solution.

We are conscious of the importance of the Rosyth to Zeebrugge ferry route for freight and for passengers. We need a replacement ferry service that can satisfy the substantial freight and passenger markets that clearly exist. We appreciate the importance of providing early assurance to the freight, passenger and tourism markets. We are looking to secure a Rosyth to Zeebrugge service that is commercially viable and capable of growth and of enduring. We continue to work with the European Commission to seek a successful conclusion to its investigation into ferries in Scotland in general.

On the Clyde services, we are setting up tri-partite discussions with Argyll and Bute Council and Inverclyde Council to discuss how to deliver a town centre to town centre service between Gourock and Dunoon for passengers and vehicles that best meets the needs of the two communities. We continue to engage with the European Commission on the Gourock to Dunoon service to ensure that future services are compatible with European law.

The subject of services from Lochboisdale has been actively discussed of late, but any proposal that might exist for a standalone Lochboisdale to Mallaig service will require a dedicated vessel, which can only be acquired through an open and transparent procurement process. Typically, such processes can take a year or more to complete. It is important that I add that we will in no way consider solutions that would damage the accessibility of the mainland from Barra. The views of the people of Barra will be a very important consideration as we move forward on the issue.

With regard to the Mull of Kintyre, the assessment of the proposed ferry service between Campbeltown and Ballycastle under the Scottish transport appraisal guidance is nearly complete. Officials are working with the appointed consultants to ensure that the resulting report is available in time for them to put advice to me by the end of the month, and a similar process is happening in Northern Ireland. We value our communities, which is why successive Governments have continued to support vital lifeline ferry services.

I hope that it is clear from that update that the Government is taking a clear lead on ferry provision in Scotland. We are taking forward the committee's recommendations without delay. I thank members for the opportunity to debate this important subject, and I look forward to hearing members' contributions.


Stewart Stevenson
does not gather, use or
retain any cookie data.

However Google who publish for us, may do.
fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP