Ferries governance to be overhauled with council takeover mooted
The Scottish Government is set to radically overall the governance of the ferry network in Scotland following long-running complaints about the state of the service.
Publishing the long-awaited paper on options for a new strategic framework, Project Neptune, transport minister Jenny Gilruth confirmed the current tripartite structure would change.
Speaking in parliament, Gilruth said: “Government must improve the delivery of ferries services on the Clyde and Hebrides network. We need a better culture of collaborative working to meet the needs of our island communities.”
Consultation with island communities on what will replace the governance is to begin shortly, with chair of CalMac’s community board Angus Campbell – who is from Lewis – to lead the work.
The current tripartite structure sees government body Transport Scotland, ferry operator CalMac and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), which owns and operates the ferries, ports and harbours, work together to deliver the service.
But islanders and others who rely on the lifeline ferries have long raised concerns about the partnership, with many saying it was not fit for purpose.
The paper looks at various options including the integration of the three bodies, privatisation or having local authorities take on management of services.
Gilruth ruled out privatisation as an option but said the others will be explored.
Scottish Tory transport spokesperson Graham Simpson welcomed the planned change. He said: “The clunky governance structure should change. It does not make sense to have the minister, Transport Scotland, CMAL and CalMac. It’s not delivering for islanders.”
Scottish Labour’s Neil Bibby welcomed a commitment to not privatise the service or see routes unbundled. He said: “The serious problems with Scotland’s ferries have gone on far too long and ultimate responsibility lies with the Scottish Government. We will of course work with the minister to try and fix it – we cannot afford to make a bad situation even worse.”
The minister invited opposition parties and other interested stakeholders to take part in discussions about the nature of the reforms going forward.
In addition, Gilruth announced the Islands Transport Forum would be re-established to focus on ferry route resilience, with a resilience group to be convened whenever there was “prolonged disruption” on a route.
A long-term investment plan to improve ports and harbours will also be brought forward shortly, which will include the installation of tide and weather monitoring equipment.