Audit Scotland issues warning over rising costs of ferries

Written by Tom Freeman on 19 October 2017 in News

Scale of rising public sector subsidy for ferry services revealed by Audit Scotland

Calmac ferry - dun deagh

The cost of maintaining ferry services in Scotland has more than doubled in ten years and could be "substantial" in the future, the country's public spending watchdog has reported.

In a new report Audit Scotland said the agency responsible Transport Scotland will need a long-term plan to keep services within "allocated budget".

More than £209m of public money was spent on ferry services and assets in 2016/17, an increase of 115 per cent since 2007/08, according to Audit Scotland.


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This is mainly due to an increase in services, new boats and the impact of the Road Equivalent Tariff, which has reduced the cost of ferry travel in the Clyde and Hebrides.

The body said it was not yet clear how successful the tariff has been.

Private and council-run services not subsidised by government were not covered by the report.

Fraser McKinlay, Audit Scotland's director of performance audit and best value, said Transport Scotland faced "important spending decisions".

"Ferries provide vital links for Scotland's island communities and overall they are performing well," he said.

"But it's critical that they provide value for money at a time when all public spending - on the islands and the mainland - is under pressure.

"As it stands, Transport Scotland does not know the full extent of future spending requirements on ferry services and assets and it will find it difficult to provide these services within its allocated budget."

Transport minister Humza Yousaf said Scottish Government investment had brought new routes, new vessels and cheaper fares.

"All of our investment is subject to strict financial control and management, and we will continue to support our ferry networks and the communities that depend on them," he said.

"As the report points out, the operators providing our ferry services are performing well. In 2016, 5.7 million people and 1.4 million cars were carried on 158,000 sailings."

Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland Tavish Scott said the report showed ferry users in Orkney and Shetland were subsidising fare cuts on the west coast.

"As subsidy to the North Isles has been cut, we have had year-on-year fare increases, especially on freight," he said.

"Just this week the Northern Isles freight industry reacted with fury to the 2.9 per cent fares increase imposed by the SNP. 

“The government claim to have been reviewing freight fares, but it is now clear that a reduction for passengers and cars which principally helps tourists and not residents, will be paid for by the cost of everything going up as the islands freight costs rise."

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