Rhoda Grant MSP
Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate

Ferry Services (Fares and Funding)

6 December 2017

I am grateful to the Liberal Democrats for bringing the issue up for debate.
It is not new.
Indeed, I have written to the Scottish Government on many occasions over the years about this looming problem, which is getting more and more serious as time passes.
I therefore find it incredibly cynical of the Scottish Government to respond by telling MSPs to back the Government’s budget, after which it will see what it will do.
If that is not playing party politics, I really do not know what is.
Nothing that I have heard to date leads me to believe that the Scottish budget will be anything other than catastrophic for the islands and the rest of Scotland.
So much for the pledge that the “provision of transport services should not place a disproportionate financial burden on any council, particularly with reference to revenue support for ferry services.”
The same Government is taking the Islands (Scotland) Bill through the Parliament to ensure that island communities are not disadvantaged and, on the other hand, is refusing to treat the islands equally.
The Scottish Government-owned ferry company provides interisland services for most other council areas.
It provides them between the Argyll islands and the mainland, and it provides interisland services in the Western Isles.

Humza Yousaf: Will the member take a quick intervention on that specific point?

Rhoda Grant:
Yes, if it is a very quick intervention.

Humza Yousaf:
Does the member acknowledge that Argyll and Bute Council funds the Islay to Jura and Seil, Easdale and Lismore services; that Highland Council funds several internal ferry services, including the Corran ferry; and that Strathclyde Partnership for Transport funds the Gourock-Kilgreggan service? Orkney and Shetland are not the only councils to fund internal ferry services.

Rhoda Grant: That was not a short intervention.
If Mr Yousaf had been listening to me, he would know that I said “most”, not “all”.
It is clear that an awful lot of interisland ferry services are funded by the Government.
The ferries that are in service in Orkney and Shetland are old and long past the time for replacement.
Frankly, they are not fit for purpose, and some of them do not even have adequate disability access, yet the Scottish Government refuses to help.
Had it intervened earlier, we would not now have such an urgent problem.
Surely, it would make sense for Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd, which provides ferries to other councils, to provide ferries to Orkney and Shetland.
At the very least, that would provide economies of scale and the ability to share ferries when there were problems.
In other council areas, CalMac also runs ferry services, and that could be replicated throughout all our islands.
The wages that are paid to staff on the interisland ferries are out of line with those that are paid for similar jobs elsewhere.
They are significantly lower than the wages that are paid by CalMac to its staff for providing similar services, and I understand that there is real concern that ferry workers will take industrial action because of that.
No one disputes that they are underpaid compared to others who are doing a similar job, but the councils tell us that they do not have the resources to pay them fairly.
The Government amendment refers to services between Orkney and Shetland and the mainland, but there are also concerns about freight costs and the capacity to transport freight from the northern isles to the mainland.
Although passenger fares have been reduced, other costs are rising, including those for freight and for access to berths for the ferries.
In reality, that is a tax on every islander and the goods coming from the islands. If the Scottish Government is committed to supporting island communities, it must take the lead and provide them with a level playing field, redressing the disadvantage that living on an island creates.
Cuts in local government funding by the Scottish Government are making the situation worse.
Therefore, it would be much more fitting for the Scottish Government, rather than posturing, to honour its previous promises and find a way of providing high-quality inter-island ferry services for people living on those islands.
Failure to do that would show that the Government has no interest in island proofing or supporting our islands, only in providing warm words and little action.
The Scottish Government needs to honour its commitment to the northern isles.

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