The Chair of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Cllr Uisdean Robertson, has called on the Scottish Government to commit to an accelerated programme of building new ferries.
The call comes in the wake of exchanges between MSPs over the draft Scottish budget at a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.
During the committee meeting, Michael Matheson MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, faced questions over the budget’s allocation of funds for the building of new ferries, which currently commits funds only to the existing order of two new ferries currently being completed by Ferguson Marine.
But, the Cabinet Secretary indicated to the committee that the Government would look at an option to acquire any suitable ferry that came onto the market at the right cost in addition to the draft budget commitments.
The Cabinet also highlighted that the draft budget includes £4m to increase resilience in the existing fleet and to enable a programme of repairs and maintenance to avoid the problems caused for travellers by serious breakdowns in the fleet.
SEARCH HAS PROVED FRUITLESS
The Comhairle has responded to the Ministers approach, casting doubts over the likelihood of such a vessel being available.
Cllr Robertson said: “The Comhairle would welcome any opportunity that could be delivered from second hand vessels being secured on the open market to relieve capacity constraints. However, we must be realistic that this has proved fruitless in recent years, despite CMAL searching the market, given that it is difficult to find vessels that can operate from our ports due to restrictions.
“What is really needed is a commitment to an accelerated programme of new build vessels to overcome the years of under-investment by successive Governments over the last 20 years. This is the only way we can have certainty and resilience for our island communities.”
MORE INVESTMENT IS NEEDED
Western Isles MSP, Dr Alasdair Allan, responded defending the Government’s record of investment.
He said: “The Scottish Government has given a commitment to examine any ferries which become available and could serve our ferry network, and I know that CMAL has been actively looking for such vessels. More investment is needed, and I continue to press the Government on this front.
“Over the course of the last decade spending on ferry services has doubled in real terms. This has been necessary to deal with the previous decade of chronic underinvestment during which virtually no major vessels were built.”