West Scotland MSP takes ferry fight to the First Minister

Jamie Greene MSP in the Scottish parliament chamber.

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‘We cannot wait until 2022 or 2023 to have a working ferry – this shambles has gone on long enough.’

West Scotland MSP, Jamie Greene, has written to First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, calling for immediate action on the reliability of Arran’s ferry service and demanding contingency plans for ferry disruptions.

Mr Greene, shadow cabinet secretary for education and skills, and previously the shadow cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity, wrote to Ms Sturgeon following additional reports received from Arran residents who have been unable to attend hospital appointments, and after the issue was first highlighted during Prime Minister’s Questions, which the First Minister said she would look into.

Jamie Greene MSP said: ‘Island residents should have access to the same standard of healthcare as people living on the mainland, unfortunately that is simply not the case as Arran patients are not able to attend critical hospital appointments because of the unreliability of the ferry.

‘The situation with the ferry has left island residents exasperated and at the mercy of constant delays, disruptions and cancellations, leaving them either stranded on the wrong side of the shore or without access to key public services such as healthcare.

‘It’s time Nicola Sturgeon took the needs and concerns of Arran seriously and delivered the replacement ferry that was promised and should have been here three years ago.

‘We cannot wait until 2022 or 2023 to have a working ferry – this shambles has gone on long enough.’

Mr Greene, in his correspondence with the First Minister, asked Ms Sturgeon to coordinate with the relevant stakeholders, including the cabinet secretary for transport and the island’s minister, to determine contingency plans that can be put in place for when there are ferry delays that prevent patients from missing hospital appointments.

Mr Greene’s letter, printed here in full, said, ‘Dear First Minister, I am contacting you further to our recent exchange at the Wednesday January 27, 2021 edition of First Minister’s Question Time where I raised the issue of cancer patients not being able to attend hospital appointments to receive treatment because of the unreliability of the ferry service.

‘Whilst I am grateful for you agreeing to look into this specific matter, I thought it relevant to raise a similar case from a resident on the Isle of Arran, who brought it to my attention after watching our exchange.

‘Last week [REDACTED] missed an important appointment with a consultant at Crosshouse Hospital because the ferry travelling to the mainland was abruptly cancelled.

‘Although she was able to secure an alternative appointment, her circumstance highlights a clear problem with the provision of healthcare to residents on the Isle of Arran, which [REDACTED] has asked me to convey to you.

‘You will also appreciate that our health service is already under great pressure and missed appointments will only further strain the system.

‘The crux of the issue is the vessels serving the route are beyond their life expectancy and frequently need to be taken out of service for repairs and maintenance. The replacement vessel that island residents were promised, the MV Glen Sannox, is three-years late, substantially over-budget and still has no firm delivery date.

‘Arran residents are becoming increasingly exasperated at the seemingly endless disruption engulfing the Ardrossan-Brodick ferry route which not only inconveniences passengers, but often leaves people stranded on the wrong side of the shore or (as recent cases have highlighted) deny residents access to key public services such as healthcare.

‘I am sure that we would both agree that island residents should have access to the same standard of healthcare as is afforded to those residing on the mainland.

‘Therefore, I would be most grateful if you could coordinate with the relevant stakeholders, including the Cabinet Secretary for Transport and the Island’s Minister, to determine what contingency plans will be put in place to prevent further patients missing critical hospital appointments because of ferry delays.

‘Thank you for your time in this matter. I look forward to hearing from you soon.’

The issue of the reliability of vessels is compounded by the fact that the replacement vessel which should already be serving the Arran route, has not been delivered following a delay to the initial delivery date, and is now five years behind schedule. This has caused much dissatisfaction and has been the subject of fierce debate and criticism.

At a Holyrood debate on the Construction and Procurement of Ferry Vessels in Scotland report, held last Tuesday, around 17 speakers each had four minutes to deliver a speech on the subject.

Among them was Arran’s MSP, Kenneth Gibson, who said: ‘Although it makes for uncomfortable reading, I welcome the conclusions and recommendations of the rural economy and connectivity committee’s Construction and Procurement of Ferry Vessels in Scotland report and thank the committee for its sterling work over many moons.

‘I speak as the constituency MSP for Cunninghame North, which includes Arran, the community that has been directly impacted by the lengthy delay in delivering into service ferry 801, or the Glen Sannox, as it is now named.

‘Alongside Ferguson Marine’s obvious project management failures, others with decision-making responsibilities, Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited in particular, and Transport Scotland, are accused of failing to discharge those responsibilities competently and effectively.

‘There was a lack of clarity regarding remit and responsibilities, and there were no clear processes to escalate matters quickly when those went unfulfilled, which has resulted in mounting costs, delays and little progress.

‘The vessels in question, which were originally due to be completed in 2018, are now five years overdue, and Covid restrictions could delay them further.’

Mr Gibson continued with his speech, making full use of his four-minutes, and concluded with, ‘For too long, decision making on new ferry construction and procurement has been delayed, despite the fact that concerns have repeatedly been raised by CalMac, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, islanders and other ferry users, as well as MSPs of all political persuasions, including me.

‘Many ferries are now significantly beyond their originally planned operational lifespan, and more vessels must be ordered. Where Transport Scotland already knows the views of island communities, that should happen now.

‘We must absorb and learn from the committee’s report and take on board its findings to ensure that the same thing does not happen again.

‘The commitments that the Scottish Government has made so far are hugely encouraging, but they must be fulfilled, and ordering new vessels while ensuring a start date on site for the associated but seemingly never-ending Ardrossan harbour redevelopment, which will be essential to dock and service the Glen Sannox, would be a very good start.’