Island ferry requests ‘ignored’ by ‘arrogant’ government, says MSP

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The Scottish Government has denied ‘arrogantly’ ‘ignoring’ islanders suggestion for better ferries on Mull and Lewis, MSPs heard in a Holyrood debate.

‘Almost two thirds of the Clyde and Hebridean ferry routes have been subject to cancellation or change in the past few days,’  Rhoda Grant, Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, told the Scottish Parliamen. ‘How on earth can people plan their lives with that level of disruption?

‘The issues are not due to a lack of investment. Indeed, the amount of money that has been squandered by the government is eye watering. Had it been spent properly, the whole fleet would have been replaced.

‘There is a huge degree of arrogance directed at the communities by the Scottish Government and its agencies. When communities make suggestions, their ideas are ignored. Given that they use the services, they are best placed to know what would work, yet they are ignored.

‘The community on Mull found a vessel for itself. It had research carried out on how the ferry could be made fit for purpose, yet that was ignored. Another ferry has been procured for that route, which is of course welcome, but the ferry that the community identified would have been infinitely better.

‘When people on Lewis asked for two smaller ferries rather than one large one, they were ignored. However, if two smaller ferries had been provided, many of the issues that we now face would be negated. We would have had a spare ferry to cover dry-docking in the winter, when one ferry would manage to cover the lower demand on the Stornoway to Ullapool route. That ferry, built for the Stornoway route, would have been able to withstand adverse weather conditions on almost every other route.’

The Minister for Transport, Graeme Dey MSP, responded: ‘Members are right to hold ministers to account for shortcomings in the ferry network for which we are responsible. Equally, however, they need to recognise that responsibility for inter-island ferries lies with the relevant local authorities.

‘There have been improvements of late. We have had the purchase of the Utne, as well as measures around school minibuses, the thorny issue of motorhome carriage and enhancing the role of the community board. That refutes the idea that either I or my officials are arrogant when it comes to responding to reasonable suggestions and asks from communities.

‘I recognise that there is much more to do but, over the past few months, we have demonstrated that we absolutely get the need for improvement and, more importantly, that we are taking tangible steps to deliver that.’