Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell has tabled a series of Written Questions in the Scottish Parliament in pursuit of what he calls a “new approach” to the procurement of ferries.
Commenting on the questions, Mr Russell said:
“The events of recent months and in particular the chaos on the Islay and Colonsay routes in April and the unacceptably frequent cancellations recently of the Mull, Arran and Campbeltown services have suggested to many that a new approach to ferry procurement is needed which results in more resilient boats which can operate on all the routes, interchangeably.
“However at present Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd, which procures the ferries used by Cal Mac, intends to go on building ever bigger and ever more sophisticated vessels primarily designed for specific crossings. That needs to change.
“When such vessels are ordered there then has to be very substantial modification of existing pier and harbour infrastructure to accommodate them, with huge disruption and cost over a long period of time.
“The policy also means that some routes with older piers and harbours have to rely on older vessels which inevitably break down more often leading to more cancellations and more difficulty for those island communities.
The latest tender specification from CMAL is for two boats of around 100m length. These boats could not be used with the existing infrastructure on Islay and Mull; meaning that the older vessels would continue on these important routes and that in the case of breakdown the new vessels couldn’t be used.
“Many of my constituents now believe that what is required is a new approach. This would see the building of a number of new vessels to a standard specification that allows the use of existing infrastructure and gives the maximum flexibility in terms of the usage of all vessels on all routes.
“Given that the tender process for two new ferries is underway this is the ideal time to start to implement that policy and I have therefore tabled a number of questions which I hope will prompt some new thinking and lead to this new, common sense, approach.
“I also want the next capital programme to provide for the construction of more ferries given the age of the fleet. Two substantial boats for the west coast have already been built by the Scottish Government, as opposed to none by the previous administration, and I will continue to press that case.”
The Parliamentary Questions tabled by Mr Russell are as follows:
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will ensure that Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd does not proceed to final tender decision for two new ferries for the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services without agreement from the communities served by these routes that the specifications are (a) suitable for existing piers and harbours and (b) capable of replication over a number of years.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will ask Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd to reconsider the length specification for two new ferries for the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services, as this would restrict their usage on number of routes, including those to Islay and Mull.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will ask Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd to ensure that the final specification for two new ferries for the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services will allow their operation on all routes without modifications to piers or harbours.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will require Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd to develop a standard specification for the procurement of two new ferries for the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services that could permit the building of further ferries for use on all existing services and capable of using all pier and harbour infrastructure without major modification.