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A new ferry could be on the horizon for island communities off the west coast it was revealed last week in the Scottish Parliament.
On Thursday, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant quizzed Transport Minister Graeme Dey MSP in the Holyrood chamber.
She demanded to know when the Scottish Government was going to increase ferry capacity across the West Highland network.
Following the initial question, Mr Dey heralded the removal of Covid restrictions and the introduction of the MV Arrow as solutions to the long-running complaints of lack of capacity.
But Mrs Grant responded that island communities in the west had suffered for a number of years due to lack of capacity and reliable ferries.
‘This year the addition of Covid-19 has taken the service to breaking point with many people unable to travel.
‘This is unacceptable; it damages the economy and blights lives.
‘The Scottish Government has so far failed to increase capacity and I would like to ask what steps it is now taking to procure additional capacity over and above that provided by the MV Arrow in the short term to alleviate these communities’ issues?’
Mr Dey advised that CMAL (Caledonian Maritime Assets) and CalMac representatives were currently out of the country assessing the viability of a new vessel to purchase which could act as an essential back-up vessel through summer months and provide additional tonnage throughout the year.
Mrs Grant cautiously welcomed the announcement saying: ‘Mr Dey advised us that ‘if’ negotiations for this new vessel are completed it will alleviate some pressure in the network.
‘While I desperately hope that this will work out for the sake of the communities, I am painfully aware of the awkward specification issues facing CalMac as a result of CMAL’s scattergun approach to vessel and pier commissioning.
‘I will celebrate when the vessel is docked in Scotland and not before.’
Mrs Grant added: ‘Even if this vessel is secured and the SNP once again manages to patch over its atrocious lack of strategic management, we have to be cautious and keep up the pressure so that we do not reach another crisis stage as we have done this year.
‘Passenger numbers on the ferry network are hitting record highs year-on-year, and this is to be welcomed – our communities should be promoted and enjoyed – but the infrastructure and the investment needs to be there to support it.
‘The ferry fleet programme is years behind where it should be to provide a reliable and robust service.
‘One or two boats are not going to address the crux of the matter – we need a properly-thought-out and developed strategy and purchase programme.’