Furious islanders from the Hebrides to Shetland claimed locals are packing up and quitting their communities in a brutal verdict on Scotland’s “utterly chaotic” ferry system.
People from Harris, Islay, Orkney, Shetland, Iona and Mull rattled off a long list of complaints at Holyrood, warning the disruption they face “really can’t be over-estimated”.
In a hard-hitting reality check for the Scottish Government, islanders warned:
- Tourists are put off by the “chaotic” situation
- Businesses are at the “point of extinction”.
- Mainland medical appointments are disrupted.
The criticism of Scotland’s nationalised ferries was aired by remote link to MSPs on a Holyrood committee on Tuesday morning.
Scotland has one of the worst public ferry systems in the world in relation to the amount of money that is spent on it.
– Joe Reade, Mull and Iona Ferry Committee
Joe Reade, chair of the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee, said ferry disruption is “widespread” across the islands.
He said residents are “actually leaving the islands because of the unreliability of the ferry service”.
The problems are “not fleeting” and are down to “strategic failures to plan over decades”.
Mr Reade continued: “Scotland has one of the worst public ferry systems in the world in relation to the amount of money that is spent on it.”
CalMac’s ageing fleet of vessels have caused problems across the ferry network as they are withdrawn for maintenance or repairs.
‘Anxiety’ on Harris
Margaret Morrison, chair of the Harris Transport Forum, said she has “never seen such anxiety amongst the population”.
The business owner has lived on the island since 1987.
She said visitors tell her they will “not return because of the situation with the ferries which is utterly chaotic at the moment”.
Tourists have found themselves “stuck on one island and not able to get to another” and had their accommodation cancelled, she told MSPs.
Ms Morrison said they have reached a “total impasse” with CalMac and the Scottish Government.
‘Morale is so low’
She added: “I came here in 1987 and I don’t ever remember having those issues with the ferries. Yes they were weather dependent but this has reached an all time critical situation.
“I feel that the islands of the Western Isles are really at the point of extinction of our businesses, and our morale is so low.
“We have no confidence left in CalMac or Scottish Government because they ask us what we want, we tell them and absolutely nothing is done about it.
Garry MacLean, vice-convener of Islay Community Council ferry committee, raised concerns about the out-of-service MV Hebdridean Isles.
If people have a bad experience, they’re less likely to come back.
– Garry MacLean, vice-convener of Islay Community Council Ferry Committee.
There are nine whisky distilleries on the island, he said, and it is vital that these “time sensitive” deliveries arrive on time.
“With the whisky industry comes tourism from which a lot of people derive their primary income either directly or tangentially to it,” he told parliament.
“If people have a bad experience, they’re less likely to come back.
“If they’re trying to book and there’s not availability as time which is convenient, they will go elsewhere.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “Ministers recognise that having confidence in ferry services can impact upon people’s decision on whether to live and work on the islands, and impacts upon the sustainability of the island communities themselves.
“These human impacts are at the heart of Scottish Ministers’ commitment to continued investment in ferry services across Scotland.
“During any disruptions CalMac will prioritise sailings to ensure delivery of essential supplies and export of island products, supporting island and remote economies.
“We continue to charge CalMac Ferries Ltd. and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd. with seeking potential second hand tonnage to improve operational resilience on the Clyde and Hebrides ferry routes.
“The previous charters of the MV Arrow and recent purchase of the MV Utne (now MV Loch Frisa) are evidence of this ongoing commitment to improve and support the existing fleet in this way. We have also recently awarded the contract to build two new ferries for the Islay routes.
“The Scottish Government has invested around £2bn in our ferry services since 2007. We have long acknowledged the need to address delays in ferry infrastructure, which is why we have committed to investing a further £580 million in the infrastructure investment plan.”