Government pockets £4.5m in CalMac fines
It has emerged that over the past 18 months, Transport Scotland – the division of the Scottish Government responsible for the ferries chaos – has “fined” CalMac more than £4.5 million for service delays and cancellations.
This led to renewed calls for the money to be passed direct to the communities which have been on the receiving end of CalMac’s woes, largely brought about by strains placed on an ageing fleet due to the non-delivery of new vessels.
Highlands and Islands Tory MSP, Donald Cameron, secured the figure for “financial penalties” via a Holyrood question. The answers showed that CalMac paid just over £3 million in the year to last September and £1.455 million in six months to the end of March.
Mr Cameron also tabled questions about compensation but was told by the latest Transport Minister, Kevin Stewart, that a scheme “would require stark choices” around how it would be “prioritised over efforts to provide network resilience”.
However, Mr Cameron, who was in Stornoway this week, responded: “The Minister is creating a false choice. Compensating businesses for the consequences of service failures and ensuring future fleet resilience are not alternatives; they are two sides of the same coin”.
Prospective Labour candidate, Torcuil Crichton, who previously called for “fines” collected by the Scottish Government to be diverted back into a compensation scheme, said: “To anyone in the islands, there is a sense of complete unreality about this.
“The same people who failed to provide the ferries are penalising the operators to whom the ferries were not provided while the communities at the sharp end are left to fend for themselves”.
Mr Stewart was accompanied in Uist by the head of Transport Scotland’s ferries division, Chris Wilcock. They met groups in North and South Uist but offered little in practical terms.
Uisdean Robertson, chairman of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s transportation committee, said: “The one thing that came up all the time was the issue of compensation or a resilience fund to support businesses that won’t make it through the next two years.
“They were adamant that they weren’t doing anything about that and that their focus is on building new ferries. It was pretty disappointing. We also raised the same issues as before about the mezzanine deck and so on but everything came back to cost”.
He added: “The more I sit with these people, the more I think there has to be a real, radical re-think about the whole governance structure. In spite of all the publicity about ferries, they really don’t yet get it. The extent of the damage being done just doesn’t get through to them”.
In 2007-08, penalties imposed on CalMac under the contract with Transport Scotland, amounted to just £35,000. It was only in 2021-22 that they exceeded £2 million annually.