Current levels of ferry service provision fall well below what members of the public and ferry stakeholders consider reasonable.
This is the overarching sentiment expressed by 394 respondents to a Net Zero, Energy & Transport Committee Call for Views progressed as part of a Scottish parliament inquiry into what constitutes a modern and sustainable ferry service for Scotland.
The Call for Views summary, published yesterday (Wednesday December 21), reveals that short-notice service cancellations and the impact this is having on many aspects of life in island and remote rural communities, were central to this view.
Members of the public and stakeholder respondents were keen however, to praise the efforts of frontline ferry staff who they said often worked in challenging conditions and with ageing vessels and infrastructure.
You can access the summary of responses here
The Committee launched its inquiry in June 2022 with the aim of seeking out how best to secure a state-funded ferry service that is future proofed, compatible with Scotland’s net zero goals and meets the needs of all service users, having regard in particular to the long-term sustainability of island communities.
The Committee has taken evidence from island ferry users, independent ferry operators, business and tourism representatives and trade unions. Members have also embarked upon fact-finding visits to Arran, Orkney and the Western Isles.
Early in 2023, the Committee will continue its scrutiny hearing from different stakeholders including international operators and the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity of Scotland, Michael Matheson MSP. The Committee will also host an online engagement event to ensure that island communities have a further opportunity to contribute to the inquiry.
However, CalMac Ferries have announced that for the year ending March 2022, CalMac service levels remained high, with a contractual reliability of 98.8%,
The DML (David MacBrayne Limited) Annual Report and Financial Statements for the year ending March 2022 say this was achieved despite challenges facing the fleet including covid infections, travel restrictions, extreme weather, and vessel breakdowns.
Achievements outlined in the report include record levels of investment being spent on maintaining the fleet – an increase of 64% over five years from £21.0m in 2018 to £34.3m in 2022 - to improve resilience, maintain the safety of passengers and crew, and to reduce the incidents of disruption.
Customers are at the heart of CalMac and they are regularly surveyed for feedback about their onboard experience so that journeys can continually be improved. The report has revealed that customer satisfaction with the service remained high at 85%.
Communities and their views are also crucial, and the report outlines that CalMac is committed to engaging with them openly and effectively. Regular meetings took place both formally and informally with groups such as the Ferries Community Board, ferry stakeholder groups, local ferry committees and local businesses and local councils.
The report also shows CalMac’s contribution to the success of communities, including providing opportunities for local employment and training, as well as supporting more than 200 local charities and more than 11,000 people through the CalMac Community Fund. Recent research has forecast that for every pound awarded through the Fund, local communities benefit from a social return of £7.32. It is expected to deliver £965,500 of value to local economies over the next two years.
Chief Executive Robbie Drummond said: “We are extremely privileged to serve one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and we take our responsibility to provide communities and customers with a quality lifeline service very seriously.
“Our latest annual report highlights that despite challenges, our service levels remain high in the face of challenging weather patterns and the impact of unplanned maintenance. We continue to focus on a community-centred approach during times of disruption, liaising with ferry committees and local authorities to help affected passengers. Record levels of funding are also being spent on fleet maintenance to help strengthen resilience.
“The report also makes clear that our customers living in the communities we serve are of the utmost importance to CalMac. We are deeply embedded in our communities, with many of our staff living and working throughout the network. We are committed to supporting local economies through employment opportunities and seeking talent through schemes such as our popular modern apprenticeship programme.
“We continue to work with partners including CMAL and Transport Scotland to support the successful delivery of additional vessels and are looking forward to welcoming 16 new vessels to the fleet over the next five years. This will bring significant service improvements to our fleet, improving reliability across the network that will benefit our customers, communities, and visitors.”
The annual report can be viewed on the CalMac website here