MSP ferry talks ‘positive’

Transport minister Graeme Dey MSP.

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Community representatives on a ferry board have reported a ‘positive’ first meeting with new transport minister Graeme Dey.

The CalMac Community Board held talks with the MSP amid the ‘critical situation’ facing services to the islands such as Harris, Skye, Coll, Tiree, Lismore and Barra.

Vessel unavailability, a lack of resilience in poor weather and a pressing need for costly new infrastructure, have all combined to reduce transport reliability for residents, businesses and visitors.

The board features representatives from 12 areas of the West Coast and acts as the independent voice of communities regarding ferry services.

After the meeting, community board chairman Angus Campbell said the new minister understood the ‘frustration and anger’ that exists across the network.

He also recognised the need to address the ‘lack of resilience’ in the CalMac fleet, said Mr Campbell.

Mr Campbell said the minister, who represents Angus South for the SNP, was committed to doing ‘all he can’ to improve the immediate situation and work with stakeholders to plan a more ‘resilient and sustainable service’.

Mr Campbell, based on Lewis, added: ‘It was confirmed that proposals to hire in additional tonnage is at an advanced stage and other proposals for short- to medium- term improvements would be considered.

‘The minister also recognised the important part the communities’ voice can play in future planning and the benefit an inclusive approach can bring to future developments.

‘The minister also wishes to have a good working relationship with the ferries community board and the island communities they serve.

‘Our board looks forward to working effectively with the minister and other stakeholders to ensure that the unacceptable level of damage to the social and economic fabric of our islands across the network will not be repeated.’

The community board also held separate sessions with senior Transport Scotland officials, CMAL’s chief executive and the managing director of CalMac.

Mr Campbell said: ‘Our board will follow up on the main points raised with the appropriate bodies and look forward to further meetings with the minister.’

Opposition Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron remains unconvinced.

He has written to Mr Dey demanding an action plan to tackle the ‘ferry fiasco’.

The Scottish Conservative MSP said: ‘Despite all the recent reports of constructive talks between local SNP politicians and ministers about the ferry fiasco, we still have no firm plan or commitments.

‘This simply is not good enough. The SNP have run Scotland’s ferry network for the last 14 years and it has been an absolute disaster zone.

‘That’s why I have written directly to the minister demanding an action plan and an answer to the simple question: will the Scottish Government commit to building new ferries during the course of this parliament?

‘I fear that with the election out of the way, the SNP will just muddle on in their time-honoured fashion leaving our island communities dependent on an increasingly threadbare lifeline service.’