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We demand compensation! Islanders share anger over ferry fiasco

One of the ferries being built at Ferguson Marine shipyard.
One of the ferries being built at Ferguson Marine shipyard.

Island communities and tourism leaders want compensation from the Scottish Government for repeated failures to deliver a modern, reliable ferry service.

It follows a backlash at the way public money has been wasted on two delayed, over-budget vessels still under construction on the Clyde.

On Wednesday, SNP Finance Secretary Kate Forbes announced yet another delay to the ferries at government-owned Ferguson Marine.

They were supposed to be sailing in 2018 but are now scheduled for next year.

Ms Forbes also said costs are going up by £8.7 million, despite the project already running two and a half times over budget up to an estimated £126.5 million.

The Glen Sannox will be delayed by eight months and is due to be completed between March and May next year, while ‘Hull 802’ will be completed between October and December next year.

The Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP admitted the latest setback after public spending watchdog Audit Scotland published a scathing report detailing a “multitude of failings” in Scotland’s ferry services.

Community leaders in the Western Isles told us businesses should get compensation to deal with the impact of ongoing wider disruption.

‘Transport Scotland don’t really get it’

Councillor Uisdean Robertson, chair of the transportation and infrastructure committee at Western Isles Council, said Edinburgh firms were compensated for tram works.

He said: “I feel officials at Transport Scotland don’t really get it.

Councillor Uisdean Robertson, chair of the transport and infrastructure committee at Western Isles Council.

“They don’t understand the impact ferry cancellations have on businesses.

“Barra, for example, has had a terrible time for the last two winters with ferry disruptions and it has had a huge impact on businesses and island life.”

You won’t find anyone on the islands, from the Butt of Lewis to the Argyll islands, who would not strongly argue for a different regime.”

– Councillor Norman Macdonald

Fellow councillor Norman Macdonald added: “We still have two vessels tied up in the Clyde that are going nowhere fast.

“Those vessels are supposed to be functioning now but we can’t see when that is going to happen and that has an impact all down the west coast.

Councillor Norman Macdonald, convener of Western Isles Council.

“People who really bear the brunt are the hauliers who bring materials and food to the islands and then take salmon and other fish out of the islands, because these things can’t be lying around for long.

“I have been in the council long enough to know what it was like in the beginning and it ran very smoothly and very well for a significant period of time, but now it is an unreliable service.

“You won’t find anyone on the islands, from the Butt of Lewis to the Argyll islands, who would not strongly argue for a different regime.”

Services are ‘not sustainable’ for businesses

The tourism industry feels short-changed by the disruption.

Nick Blunt, who runs walking holiday company Hidden Hebrides, says ferry cancellations and delays have a “huge impact” on him and his business.

He said: “We are quite worried about the increasing futility of the fleet, the increasing breakdowns and the lack of cover and surplus vessels available.

“It is not sustainable for island businesses.”

Mr Blunt wants staggered ticket sales to avoid them being booked up too far in advance in summer months.

He said: “People couldn’t book foot passenger tickets for weeks and they were trapped on the islands – if people were trapped in Aberdeen for that long, they would be frustrated.”

Transport minister apologises

Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth made an apology to islanders at Holyrood on Wednesday.

Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth.

She said: “I am sorry that this winter has not provided islanders with the services that they deserve and that they should have had access to.

“I am sorry their needs have not always been fully met and I am sorry that when things have gone wrong, islanders have not always been communicated with appropriately or in a timely fashion.”

Ms Forbes said: “I reiterate today that there are no ifs, there are no buts, those vessels must be completed and they must be completed as quickly and as effectively as possible.”

Islanders still waiting for lifeline ferries as report exposes ‘multitude of failings’

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