CARRY out a study on fixed links in Scotland and introduce stronger regulation on ferries are just two of the many recommendations which have been made to the Scottish Government by a parliament committee.
Taking into account the requirements of communities during future ferry procurement and reviewing how data on the performance of NorthLink services also feature.
The recommendations are included in the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee’s long-awaited report called A Modern and Sustainable Ferry Service for Scotland.
It said that users of ferries say services are “not good enough and need to change”.
During the committee’s inquiry MSPs heard from Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee chair Moraig Lyall, who raised concerns around capacity, cost and cabins.
One key takeaway from the committee’s report is that MSPs back the Scottish Government commissioning a “comprehensive study” into the viability, cost and potential savings of fixed links in “appropriate locations” in Scotland.
Shetland Islands Council is in favour of fixed links as a long-term replacement of ferries on the isles’ busiest routes.
The report added: “Local authorities also deliver lifeline ferry services and the Scottish Government must collaborate effectively with councils to ensure those communities can rely on those services.
“This should include discussion of fixed links and we recommend the Scottish Government comprehensively assess the value for money presented by tunnels and bridges as opposed to ferries across Scotland.”
The report also said that “ferry services must be shaped by the communities reliant on them”.
“In this regard, we call on the Scottish Government to consider how their voices can be championed through formal and informal roles in decision making,” it said.
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Responding to the report, Lyall said she felt the committee had listened to concerns from all witnesses in the inquiry.
“It’s excellent to see that fixed links are mentioned several times throughout the report as having potential to replace ferries for a variety of reasons – financial, socioeconomic and environmental,” she added.
“The recommendation that the Scottish Government explore this in depth is very welcome and I would ask ministers to implement this recommendation fully.
“This report adds to calls for investigation into tunnels to be progressed. Each time that message is repeated I believe it makes the likelihood of them actually happening come that little bit closer.”
She also said the commitment to get the average age of Scottish ferries down to 15 years by 2030 is “extremely ambitious but to get there would require new vessels to be in service on a number of our routes, so we look forward to working with the Scottish Government in realising that ambition”.
“The mention of the urgency surrounding this is also very welcome.”
Lyall also said the idea of concessionary travel for young people is something the council has been calling for and “would again ask the Scottish Government to implement it as soon as possible”.
Meanwhile Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said the report outlines what has been known for some time – “that under the SNP/Green-led Scottish Government ferry services to Scotland’s islands have not been treated with the importance needed to ensure island communities can survive and thrive”.
The Lib Dem said transport “needs long-term planning and investment, and a steady hand at the helm”.
“The lack of priority given to a rolling programme to replace ageing ferries combined with the serious lack of understanding about how islands function has led us to where we are today,” Wishart continued.
“Eight transport ministers in ten years has led to a chaotic decade without a long-term strategy.
“A massive programme of investment is now needed to get back on track.
“I continue to raise the many transport issues people in Shetland contact me about almost daily whether it’s a reliable service to Aberdeen, shared cabins, or replacement of inter-island ferries and tunnels.
“The Scottish Government need to start taking these concerns seriously and stop taking islanders for a ride.”
The SNP’s only Highlands and Islands MSP, Emma Roddick, said she was grateful for the committee’s report.
Through Transport Scotland, the SNP-led government contracts Serco NorthLink to run ferries between Shetland, Orkney and Aberdeen.
Calmac also receives government subsidy to run services on Scotland’s West Coast, which has been plagued with issues in recent months.
“I was not surprised to see the committee recommend that the Scottish Government examine concessionary fares for young people as part of its fair fares review,” Roddick said.
“It was something I have called for on a number of occasions as a backbencher and I know the Scottish Government will consider.
“The Scottish Government has already committed this year to work with Island Authorities, including Shetland Islands Council, to ensure that the internal ferry services are fully funded for the future.
“I trust that the committee’s report will be the start of a conversation between the Scottish Government and island partners to secure the future of transport on our islands and for the folk that call them home.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said it welcomed the report and its strong emphasis on hearing from the communities who use the services.
They added: “We will carefully consider the recommendations of the report and respond to the committee in due course.”
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