The crisis over ferry services to the Outer Hebrides deepened last night (Friday August 9th) as it became clear that Ferguson’s Shipyard in Glasgow was on the brink of going into administration for the second time in five years.
Fergusons are building two large, long-delayed, hugely-over-budget, ferries for use by CalMac Ferries including the replacement ferry for the Tarbert-Lochmaddy-Uig service.
Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Economy, Derek Mackay MSP said: “The news that Fergusons are to appoint administrators will be concerning for the workforce.
“I am committed to the delivery of our vessels, securing the jobs and the future of the yard.”
He pledged that the Scottish Government would be working over the weekend on a solution.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I know that this news will be worrying for workers at Fergusons. The Scottish Government is determined to find a solution that will protect jobs and secure the future of the yard, and we will be continuing work over the weekend to find a way forward.”
The Clyde yard has been running since 1902 and is the only remaining shipyard in its area. The contract for the two vessels was worth £97m but reports claim that the true cost may have doubled.
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan said: “The Scottish Government needs to ensure its priority is getting these two long-overdue vessels completed and put into service on the west coast.
“CalMac’s fleet is in urgent need of new vessels and the delays to the Glen Sannox and Vessel Number 802 have exacerbated the strain on the network.
“All options should be explored to make sure these vessels are built and built as soon as possible.
“Island communities have waited too long for these vessels to enter service with estimated dates of completion continually put back.”
Highlands and Islands Labour MSPs, Rhoda Grant and David Stewart, also announced they were backing the calls earlier in the week from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for ageing CalMac ferries to be urgently replaced and brought up to standard.
This came after a call from former UK Labour Government Minister, Brian Wilson, for an independent review into west coast ferry services. Mr Wilson said there are “urgent” problems and a “general review of what has gone wrong" is needed.
Rhoda Grant said: “Island communities need ferries they can rely on, for business needs, for social needs and to support much-needed income from tourists.”
David Stewart said: “I have backed calls from Dunoon to Stornoway for improvement to our west coast ferries. Islanders need robust services but day on day we are hearing of breakdowns and cancellations disrupting life for hundreds of frustrated travellers. It is damaging to business and the local economy.
Mr Stewart continued: “We now have the situation where the two new ferries presently being built are delayed indefinitely. Businesses, individual travellers and tourists deserve better than this.
CnES has urged Transport Scotland to support as many of the short-term improvements identified in a network plan for Outer Hebrides ferry services as soon as possible and have these in place for Summer 2020.
This was one of a number of points made by the Comhairle at a recent meeting with Transport Scotland and their consultants’ PBA to consider the findings of the Outer Hebrides Scottish Transport Appraisal Group (STAG) in Stornoway.
The meeting was also attended by Alasdair Allan, Outer Hebrides Tourism, Angus Campbell (Chairman of the CalMac Communities Board) and officers who took part in the study reference group from the Comhairle and HITRANS, the transport authority for the Highlands and Islands.
Councillors took the opportunity to express the frustration of the island communities and businesses that previous studies which identified the need for a two-ferry service to Stornoway had been ignored leading to a continuation of the severe capacity limitations now constraining the ability of key economic sectors to grow.
It has long been clear that the overall cost of building the Loch Seaforth vessel along with upgrading and expanding the Stornoway and Ullapool ports to cope with the bigger vessel, equalled or exceeded the cost of building two smaller vessels for the route, as originally agreed.
It was noted that a dedicated ferry on each of the ferry services from Uig to Harris and Uist was required yet the decision was taken to provide a relatively modest increase in capacity by ordering a single new ferry to continue the shared resource that has been in place for 55 years.
CnES said then that no update was available to the meeting on when New Vessel 802 will be completed. “Comhairle nan Eilean Siar receive little or no information from Government on this matter that is so critical to our communities.
“The continued failure to complete MV Glen Sannox and New Vessel 802 means there is a very real prospect that only two major ferries will have entered service over two decades from 2001 to 2021.”
CnES Leader Councillor Roddie MacKay, added: “Councillors are all too often the first point of contact for frustrated travellers.
“It is time that decisions on ferry services were made at a local level and that the views of those who depend on ferry services were listened to.”
Photograph: The launch of Glen Sannox on 21 November 2017