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Scotland's Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth has made a series of pledges to MSPs about improved resilience for ferry services this winter and beyond.

She also welcomed the involvement of former Comhairle NAN EILEAN SIAR leader Angus Campbell, who chairs the Ferries Communities board, and  has agreed to lead our community consultation work on ferry study Project Neptune’s next steps. "I will also meet with Mr Campbell next week," she said told the Scottish Parliament yesterday (Wednesday September 28)

She emphasised that the Government has committed to a long term plan for investment in vessels and port infrastructure later this year as key components of the Island Connectivity Plan.

"This will build on the investments being delivered in the Infrastructure Investment Plan, which committed to £580m to provide new vessels and port upgrades."

Work begins next week on two new Islay vessels that will significantly increase capacity on the Islay route and accelerates the replacement of the fleet.

'Work is ongoing on replacement vessels for the Isle of Mull,  the MV Lord of the Isles and up to seven vessels in the first phase of the Small Vessel replacement programme.  

"But I know that additional tonnage is needed in the CalMac fleet. Officials are urgently prioritising options for Ministers at the present time and I hope to be able to say more on this in due course, noting the commercial sensitivities involved."

There's also been work cut weather related cancellations. 

"We have committed to expand funding for tide and weather monitoring equipment currently in place at CMAL ports to third-party ports."

New ways to analysing delays will come into use. "They will be visible and published targets against which we can monitor performance which I think is hugely important.

"This year Scottish Government funding is supporting CalMac to invest an additional £5 million to improve fleet sustainability and to give a more resilient service for customers and communities.

"Dry dock this year will be extended – that will reduce the level and risk of unplanned disruptions communities are faced with."

This appears to be an admission that rushed work in dry-docks during maintenance was leading to post dry-dock unreliability.

"CalMac have also made changes to some of the vessel deployment plans to prioritise reliability and improve the quality of the service on certain routes. 

"And for any prolonged period of disruption, I will convene a resilience group with the Ferries Community Board, CalMac and local partners, as I have done since my appointment in January.

"For island businesses, for children and young people and for all of those who depend on these lifeline services – we owe it to them to get this right."

Separately it was reported that new concerns had emerged over whether two vessels at the centre of Scotland's ferry fiasco will ever be delivered as it emerged the costs to the taxpayer is now approaching £340m.

Latest analysis by nationalised shipbuilding firm Ferguson Marine reveals a 'High' code red concern that the number of faults outstanding remain a risk to the acceptance of the two lifeline vessels - one for the Uig Triangle routes.

Reports says challenges are lack of manpower, potential design changes and the fact that materials bought some time ago are "not fit for purpose". New figures from Ferguson Marine now show that the costs are now forecast to soar by nearly £100m from around £240m to nearly £340m.

Ferry owners Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) has warned that the level of unprogrammed work involving Glen Sannox remains "unquantifiable" and "continues to be a significant risk to the project".

CMAL says there is a "slippage" in the commissioning of Glen Sannox and that unless action plans are "very effective cost and scheduling targets are unlikely to be achievable in line with the current date constraints".

In a separate update to the Scottish Parliament, Ferguson Marine chief executive David Tydeman has said that the two ferries will be subject to further delay.

Mr Tydeman has said transferring resources to deal with issues with Glen Sannox means that a handover of Hull 802 is not now planned until the first three months of 2024 while there was a "one or two month worst case slippage" with the other vessel. That's six years behind schedule, and a further slippage is not ruled out.  

Scottish Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie MSP told MSPs later: “The SNP are the reason for this scandal. They didn’t just happen to be in charge at the time. They caused the chaos.  

“In any normal government adopting international norms, ministers would resign without delay. 

“But not this government. It’s everyone else’s fault, according to this government.  

“How could we doubt them? They were trying their best.  

“Well, let’s look at what their best means. 

“Their best means that the ferries that were supposed to be built five years ago are still stuck in the docks.  

“The best the nationalists have to offer means wasting £150 million in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.  

“For islanders, that means 7,431 cancelled sailings this year so far. Hospital appointments missed. 

"Children missing school. Shops and businesses missing supplies. 

 

“If this is their best, please, save us from their worst.”