In a submission to the Scottish Governmentâ€™s Ferry Review, the CalMac and parent company chairman Peter Timms has stressed that there is no justification for opening the network up to single route tenders as this would not be of benefit to the remote and fragile communities they serve. The company also stresses that it needs more money to replace ageing vessels, many of which are already â€˜past their bestâ€™. CalMac ferries are, on average, 19 years old, and only one new vessel is due to come into service next year, the first in 4 years. This is the MV â€˜Finlagganâ€™, presently being built in Poland, and due to take over the Islay run in the late spring of 2011. Plans for a new vessel for the Ullapool-Stornoway route are â€˜still up in the airâ€™.
The MV Finlaggan after its launch from the Remontowa shpyard in Poland
It has already been estimated that Â£604m will be needed for new vessels between now and 2022, along with Â£180m to replace ports and harbours. In addition, the maintenance of existing ports and harbours is expected to cost Â£7.5m per annum for the next 12 years. The company chairman has urged government ministers not to let the current economic climate affect the need for new vessels and port improvements. Continue reading....
He states: â€˜Our submission demonstrates how investment in new ferry infrastructure has been slipping behind for decades, reducing the quality of our services, and creating a situation where catch-up will have to be taken in emergency conditions, needing much more investment than if a continuous replacement policy had been adopted. It is clear that no matter how many assurances are given about responding to community needs, or providing lifeline services in order to enable rural communities to contribute to the national good, the ability to deliver these well-intentioned aims very quickly comes down to the availability of funding for services that are vital to a special group of Scotlandâ€™s people.â€
The CalMac chief also lays some of the blame on the introduction of a RET pilot scheme in some of the Western Isles and which has seen fares cut by up to a half resulting in increased pressure on its boats. â€œVessels designed to satisfy forecast demand for 20 plus years are already running full for prolonged periods of time with little or no scope to increase volumes carried during the high season. If ferry services are to continue to support the reasonable needs of the communities served, the cost of providing adequate capacity will result in more and larger vessels being needed, driving up the need for even greater investment in the fleet.â€
One of the cost saving measures proposed could lead to fare increases on peak-time journeys to shift passengers on to off-peak services which are currently under-utilised. This â€˜demand responsiveâ€™ is already in use by many airlines and has been introduced by some train companies. The Scottish Government is due to publish its proposals on the future of the ferry network in the spring but any decision on their implementation has been deferred until after the election in May, 2011.
This story was published with kind permission of the Ileach local newspaper.