Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee yesterday published the report of their inquiry into the events and decisions surrounding the construction of hulls 801 and 802. Both vessels are still partially complete, massively over budget and around five years late. The yard building them has collapsed and been nationalised, and there are serious doubts raised by many different island representatives (us included) that these designs were ever the right choice.
With all things considered (including pier upgrades to fit them), these two ferries will have cost around one third of a billion pounds. To put that in context, one of CalMac’s most recent purchases – the Finlaggan – came in at £25 million back in 2011.
We made two submissions to the enquiry (you can read them here) and we’re pleased that much of what we and other user representatives asked for has been included in the recommendations:
The Committee … notes the high level of dissatisfaction expressed by many
community stakeholders regarding the extent to which their views have any
meaningful impact on the design of new vessels. The Committee therefore
considers that island communities and other community stakeholders must be
given a much stronger role in providing input to the design of future new ferries.
One of the potential positive outcomes from the RECC inquiry is that the whole process of procurement will be over-hauled, and the needs and views of island users given more weight. The committee of MSPs heard evidence from many islands that the ferries they were given were not the ones they wanted. There is a broad consensus that the vessels are generally too large, and a greater number of smaller ferries would give us better timetables and improved reliability, rather than the increasingly long, tall and complex vessels that have recently been built.
With the MV Isle of Mull nearing the top of the replacement list, and Oban-Craignure being the most congested service in the entire network, we can perhaps be optimistic that our new vessels will be designed with our needs given more weight.
In the near term and before the IOM is entirely replaced however, we are pursuing a catamaran that could be bought for the Oban-Craignure route, and alleviate many of the problems we experience. On near-term remedies like this, the RECC inquiry was also instructive:
…the Committee calls on the Scottish Government to provide an
urgent update on measures being taken to address capacity constraints on the
routes affected and more widely across the network in the intervening time until
vessels 801 and 802 enter into service.
The Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse will be responding to the committee in due course. But there is reason to hope that this inquiry may be the impetus for improvement to the ferry system over the coming years.
or download a pdf version here: