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Scottish Government’s decision to carry on building a ferry which is not value for money has been described as ‘the least worst option’ by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

But the Comhairle’s transportation chair, Councillor Uisdean Paterson, said the islands will continue to pay for a series of decisions which have left CalMac still scrabbling for vessels to serve our communities.

The opinion comes in a statement today (Friday 19 May) from CnES, responding to this week’s announcement in the Scottish Parliament over completion of two ferries by Ferguson Marine Port Glasgow (FMPG) following a review of forecast costs.

On Tuesday, economy secretary Neil Gray MSP said the vessels would be completed, as the quickest way of introducing new lifeline connectivity for island communities. (See our story here

Unusually, a ministerial written authority was issued to enable work to continue on vessel 802, which was originally intended to serve the routes to Lochmaddy and Tarbert.

Due diligence reports said that it would be cheaper to scrap the ship and procure an entirely new vessel. 

Cllr Robertson, Chair of Transportation and Infrastructure, said: “Under the circumstances I would support the Ministerial direction to complete vessel 802, as our communities in Uist and Harris have been left with insufficient capacity on the routes that this vessel should have served for the last five years.

“At this point in time this is the least worst option and we must get this vessel and MV Glen Sannox into service.

“However, I cannot understand why similar consideration of the opportunity to scrap 802 and begin again at another yard was not looked at under the same value for money assessment when Ferguson Marine was nationalised in 2019. 

“Had this happened at that time the cost to the taxpayer would have been much reduced and our islands could have seen new tonnage in place by 2022. 

“Instead, the cost has been passed on to island communities for what will be years of delay in getting the new vessel in service. 

“The Comhairle has called on government to recognise this cost by providing support for business continuation to compensate those businesses whose very viability is threatened by the Government failure to deliver new ferries. 

“Government rightly acted quickly in response to Covid 19, but the impact of this crisis which has been visited on our islands by this debacle has similar damaging consequences.

“We look for comparable intervention to support our communities.”