By Bill Heaney
Slow boats and even no boats. That is what Scottish Liberal Democrat economy spokesperson Willie Rennie MSP has today accused the Scottish Government of providing — and even of treating island communities with neglect.
Mr Rennie revealed that CalMac compensation payments have almost doubled and more than 17,000 ferry journeys did not arrive as planned last year.
Freedom of information requests submitted by Scottish Liberal Democrats to CalMac reveal:
- That payments made to passengers for meals & accommodation, transport and compensation almost doubled to £454,000 in 2022, taking the total over the last five years to £1.1 million.
- In 2022, 11,301 journeys were cancelled with a further 5,781 arriving late. This is the highest level of cancelled journeys for at least five years and means that the proportion of ferries which did not arrive as planned broke the 10% barrier for the first-time.
- Since 2018, there have been 43,421 cancelled ferries and a further 27,121 which arrived late.
The revelation comes after the Scottish Government confirmed that it would use a rarely used political device as a lifebelt.
And would command civil servants to release money for work on Hull 802 under construction by Ferguson Marine to carry on despite official analysis indicating that such a measure did not represent value for money.
The Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000 requires any public expenditure to meet the value for money principles, which means that resources must be used economically, efficiently and effectively. As a result Economy Secretary Neil Gray was forced to issue written instructions that the government break the rules of good finance to get it finished.
Commenting on the latest figures, Mr Rennie said: “The SNP have neglected our island communities, as they continue to mismanage Scotland’s ferry network.
“These latest figures show that it’s a roll of the dice whether your lifeline service will be late or cancelled.
“This has a real world impact. Businesses can’t get the supplies they need and families are struggling to get to critical medical appointments.
“Ministers need to explain why years of under-investment that led us here were ever allowed.
“We need the Scottish Government to invest in island ferries and put together a long-term plan for replacing boats which have been in use for decades.”
Islanders pray that their ferries will come on time – and even if it they will come at all. Pictures by Bill Heaney
In the UK parliament, Penny Mordaunt questioned “how many SNP figures” will end up “in the dock” as she slapped down down another dubious attack from her opposite number Deidre Brock, reports the Scottish Daily Express.
The Edinburgh North and Leith MP clearly annoyed the Leader of the House by suggesting she was “surprised” she had not been at an “extreme far-right” conference organised by a US think tank.
Ms Mordaunt decided to torpedo her in response. She said the “SNP is hiking taxes, spending like there is no tomorrow and failing to deliver on decent public services”, before referencing Lorna Slater’s charter boat trip to Rum due to CalMac ferry shortages.
She added: “I wonder whether the honourable Lady and her colleagues have read any of Audit Scotland’s reports or acted on any of its recommendations. They have no concept of the catalogue we now have of arrests and raids and multiple police investigations into the mismanagement of their party finances, and of how negatively that has reflected on Scottish politics.
“We also have the poor stewardship of public funds and an increasing question about the ongoing saga of the Scottish National Investment Bank. We are wondering not just how much longer those CalMac ferries will be in the dock, but how many SNP figures will be as well.”
She said the Conservative Friends of the Ocean group supported the creation of HPMAs, adding: “I know that the Conservatives are desperate to win back the Scottish coastal communities after their Brexit catastrophe, but those communities will see through this hypocrisy.
And she claimed her “jaw nearly hit the floor” when she realised Ms Mordaunt herself was patron of the group, adding: “Will she be resigning from Government to honour her role as patron, or resigning as patron to uphold Government policy?”
Ms Mordaunt said: “I am very proud of my Government’s record, both on improving our water quality and boosting the economic resilience of coastal communities…the concerns that have been raised by many coastal communities is because the Scottish Government does not consult and it does not listen to those communities.