On 6th April, we wrote to prospective candidates standing for election in May, highlighting the issues with our ferry service and asking them to address four key questions.
We, the Arran Ferry Action Group, representing the majority of households on the Isle of Arran, have more than 1300 supporters. Committed to the improvement of our lifeline ferry service, we are disappointed and angry at the serious deterioration of our ferry service in the last few years.
The ageing fleet of ferries serving Arran and the continuing delay of the provision of the MV Glen Sannox, which was due to become operative in 2018 (!), have caused serious harm to Arran residents and business owners. The current ferry boats, due to their age, regularly break down and require sometimes extensive repairs.
Residents requiring medical treatment/care on the mainland have been unable to receive this often lifesaving care due to regular disruptions of the ferry service. Business owners have been unable to obtain necessary equipment and workers in a timely fashion. Many residents, frustrated by the situation have decided to leave the island. Furthermore, the recently built ferry terminal at Brodick has been found to be improperly aligned, thereby causing additional disruption of ferry service. This expensive terminal has proved to be difficult for elderly and mobility challenged residents and visitors due to the long, narrow walkway and the many steps to and from the ferry terminal. Two small elevators are totally inadequate. While residents had strongly requested an escalator or other form of easier access to the ferry, their request was ignored. Many ferry users have fallen down the steps, with attending injuries.
These issues have been widely publicized in the media and are well known to Scottish taxpayers and ferry users. The recently published report of the Parliamentary Committee RECC has highlighted the poor quality of decision making by government officials and government bodies.
As a candidate for office in the May elections for the Scottish Parliament, we are requesting your answers to the following questions. Our intention is to publicize your response. Should you choose to ignore our request, we will publish that fact as well.
For your information, we have attached a document entitled "Questions and Answers" which we have prepared, giving the detailed background of our efforts to obtain information.
To date we have received a response from Katy Clark and the sitting candidate, who has been Arran's representative throughout the increasingly chaotic deterioration of our lifeline service and who has previously refused to recognise the properly constituted Arran Ferry Action Group. You may therefore share our scepticism at his answers.
We question why the others standing for election have not responded. If elected, will they do any better? Do they even care?
What do you propose to do to ensure that Arran residents and visitors have a reliable and resilient ferry service?
The failure by the Scottish Government to replace ferries across Scotland is a major factor in the unreliability of the ferry service, not just for Arran but across the network. Bad decisions in relation to the Arran/ Ardrossan route have wasted millions of pounds and provided a poor service.
In the 14 years the SNP have been in power at Holyrood they have launched 5 ferries. In the previous 14 years leading up to 2007, 12 ferries were launched. This failure to commission new vessels, and a succession of bad decisions which have wasted many millions of pounds, have led to the current poor service.
An old fleet is predictably, less reliable and numerous vessels have broken down causing problems across Scotland. Suitable vessels now need sourced for the Arran/ Ardrossan route.
Decisions which are necessary in the public interest have been delayed and are made more difficult by the private ownership of land. Ports and harbours need to be in Government ownership and I am calling for the nationalisation of Peel Ports.
We need to look at merging CMAL ( Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd) which own ferries, ports and harbours, and lease ferries to CalMac, and CalMac who run the ferries and whether this would improve the service and be cost-efficient.
The urgent priority is however obtaining suitable ferries for the lifeline route. There needs to be a short sharp review involving the local community to make decisions on obtaining suitable and reliable ferries.
Scottish Labour will work with islanders on a full review of ferry services, a new strategy to upgrade ports and deliver a programme of repairs made in Scotland.
From when I was first elected in 2007 I have continually pressed Scottish Ministers to improve Arran's ferry service. Many improvements have been made; from the introduction of RET - which was only added into the 2011 SNP Manifesto at my insistence - the rejection of differential RET timetable pricing, extension of the second summer service and the introduction of the MV Catriona. This was originally earmarked for Gigha but I lobbied successfully for its transfer to Lochranza.
Of course, I also lobbied for a new state-of-the-art ferry to ply the Brodick route. Along with Isle of Arran Ferry Committee (IoAFC) I supported having a couple 'Finlaggan' sized vessels on the route. However, the ferry operator wanted bigger vessels which it considered would be more 'flexible' for network needs. As Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited and Transport Scotland (TS) agreed, Ministers accepted that proposal.
Building two new ferries at Port Glasgow with, it was believed, an innovative and world-class Liquid Natural Gas fuel source, was supported by all political parties at the time. The Glen Sannox was expected to enter service in 2018. The shambles this became is well documented.
Presently we have been informed that the Glen Sannox ferry may not be in operation until 2023. Furthermore, it is not clear when the Ardrossan Harbour development will begin and the estimation is that it will not be completed until 2024. Many have suggested that during the next several years the government should provide an alternative reliable ferry which would include the rental or purchase of a smaller boat or catamaran.
Would you support such a proposal?
Yes. I support such proposals. I am calling for a short sharp review to consider all options and to agree a solution which has the support of the local community. The current situation cannot continue given the dependence of the island on the ferry service.
The SNP Government have failed to sign off Ardrossan Harbour investment. I will fight for that investment and if the Arran service is to be diverted to Troon for suitable accommodation at Troon including transport links to Crosshouse and other necessary shuttles to be agreed with users of the service.
Yes. All practical and possible steps should be taken. These positive suggestions have been discussed at IoAFC meetings on numerous occasions and raised with TS and CalMac.
TS has visited harbours to examine vessels in both Copenhagen and Oslo, to lease and - if necessary - adapt for use on the Clyde or other Scottish routes. None of the vessels examined were, however, considered suitable. Nevertheless, this should again be actively pursued.
I raised the provision of catamarans with CalMac CEO Robbie Drummond when I met in March last year. He replied that CalMac is not in favour, saying that catamarans are not suitable for the Clyde as they are less stable and passengers more prone to seasickness. He added that Norway and other countries with catamarans are moving to single-hulled vessels.
The multi-MSP Rural & Economic Connectivity Committee (RECC) produced a 2021 report into the "catastrophic failure" of the Ferguson Scottish ferry build project. Do you agree with the recommendations of that RECC ferry report?
Yes. I believe there needs to be an external independent review of the procurement process for the new Calmac ferries so that lessons can be learn. The Holyrood Committee described the process as a "catastrophic failure". The 2 ferries were due to be used on the west coast by 2018 at a cost of £97 million. They are now expected in use in 2022/3 at double the cost.
The SNP Government have failed to implement the recommendations of the report and an independent external review should be instructed immediately.
Yes. I was also the only candidate contesting this constituency who participated in the debate on the committee's report, just as I have spoken in every ferry debate since 2007.
My contribution - restricted to four minutes by the Presiding Officer - can be seen here
Arran ferry users have been unable to obtain reliable information regarding timetables for the Glen Sannox and the Ardrossan Harbour development. There have been no community consultations since 2018 and our voices have not been heard.
How do you propose to compel government representatives to consult with the ferry users and take into consideration their requests?
There needs to be involvement of the community, sharing of information on the decision making process and on what decisions made mean for the service. There was a failure by the SNP Government to sign off the Ardrossan Harbour development prior to the elections being called.
Given the pandemic it is not possible to hold public meetings or public consultations, so well advertised virtual events need arranged which enable the community to ask questions, get answers and give input as well as the ability to obtain information/ make requests or submissions or comments in writing.
The dedicated Island Senior Officer who has been appointed by North Ayrshire Council needs involved along with local representatives of the community.
Scottish Government representatives who have the power to make decisions along with all the various organisations involved need to be available to the community.
I raised the need for more community engagement in my contribution to the debate on 02 February. In his summing up, Ferries Minister Paul Wheelhouse said:
"Alasdair Allan was right to focus on the communities, and I hope that he and Kenny Gibson and others would acknowledge that I have been in contact with communities and I have given them the absolute assurance that we are doing everything that we can to get the vessels in place in time, and I have expressed my regret that they are facing delays as a consequence of what has happened at Ferguson's."
With regard to information about the Ardrossan Harbour redevelopment, public engagement and 'comms' was devolved by the Ardrossan Harbour Taskforce from the start to NAC. As you will know, Bill Calderwood, representing the IoAFC, NAC Leader Joe Cullinane and I are all members. The IoAFC held a virtual meeting with the Taskforce a couple of months ago.
To be fair to NAC, there have been constant delays to the harbour project, not least because of endless legal arguments between Peel, NAC and the Scottish Government regarding who pays for what. Peel has been driving a very hard bargain.
NAC - and Scottish Ministers - want to engage once they have an agreed proposal to consult on. Many of the redevelopment plans have now been agreed and I would hope that formal public engagement takes place on both Arran and in Ardrossan in early summer.
The current state of our lifeline ferry service shows it is not fit for purpose in terms of reliability, resilience and infrastructure. The Arran Ferry Action Group is a new and fully representative lobbying group, set up to represent Arran interests in demanding service improvements and accountability in future investment decisions.