A long term strategy to deliver a modern, efficient and responsive ferry network must be drawn up by the Scottish Government, according to a report published today by the Scottish Parliament's Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee.
The recommendations contained in the ‘Ferry Services in Scotland ’ report also identify a series of short term improvements to ferry services which should be taken forward immediately.
Committee Convener Patrick Harvie MSP said:
“Ferry users across Scotland and their views have been at the heart of this inquiry into how essential ferry services could be improved. We have also heard about the constraints faced by ferry operators in providing services.
“We are calling for a national ferries strategy which will deliver a network of routes that fully meets the needs and aspirations of the communities that rely on them and promotes the long-term sustainability of these communities. We believe the Scottish Government’s forthcoming ferries review presents a genuine opportunity to deliver this strategy and to secure the long-term future of a ferry network which is fit for purpose in the 21st century.”
The Committee made a number of short-term recommendations to be taken forward by the Scottish Government immediately:
- adjusting timetables and frequency of sailings 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 landing areas for disabled people
- improving ferry operators’ standards of customer service
The Committee also made a number of recommendations in order to shape the Government's ferries review, which will begin shortly including:
- examining innovative proposals such as faster and more fuel efficient vessels, significantly improved timetables, new routes, and the use of fixed links
- replacing and upgrading of ferry vessels and ports infrastructure
- making it easier for ferry operators to make changes to services within their contracts, if they are designed to promote improved services and facilitate innovation
- transferring of responsibility for the strategic direction of ferry services to Transport Scotland .
- conducting a full public consultation as part of the review, and taking the review forward as a matter of urgency.
The Committee’s report also acknowledges the importance of the current European Commission investigation into complaints about subsidies paid by the Scottish Government to CalMac and NorthLink.
Convener Patrick Harvie MSP added:
“The Committee recognises that there is an ongoing EC investigation and we await the outcome with interest. This exercise should provide clarity with regard to the legal position on this issue and will help inform the mechanisms by which ferry services will be delivered in the future. However, we are of the view that none of our recommendations are dependent on the outcome of the investigation and that they can and should be taken forward now.”
The committee inquiry has been one of the most extensive conducted by a Scottish Parliament Committee with a major programme of evidence gathering. It has included an online survey, video conferences, informal fact finding visits to meet ferry operators and users and public committee meetings right across the Scottish mainland and islands.
The Scottish Government will provide a response to the Committee’s report and it is anticipated that it will be the subject of a full Parliamentary debate in September.