Scottish Ministers have a duty to ensure that the publicly-funded Dunoon-Gourock Argyll Ferries service is as reliable as possible, Highlands & Islands Conservative MSP Jamie McGrigor stated in a Parliamentary debate today. Jamie was speaking in a Members' debate on the Dunoon-Gourock Ferry Action Group in the Parliament this lunchtime.
Speaking in today’s debate, Jamie said:
“I vividly remember the run-up to the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, when the then SNP candidate and subsequent constituency MSP for Argyll & Bute, Jim Mather, promised that there would be two new vehicle ferries on the town centre to town centre Gourock-Dunoon route. Local people know only too well that this promise was not fulfilled as excuse after excuse was made. Not even a rowing boat appeared!
"Instead, since July 2011, the service was reduced to the Argyll Ferries’ passenger-only one on this route. And local residents and visitors have been angry and dismayed - understandably so - at the performance of Argyll Ferries, particularly in bad weather, where the suitability of the vessels remains a big concern. The most recent figures, which I obtained through a written answer this week, demonstrate how poor the performance is compared with other Calmac services, and I know these services very well as I use them often myself.
“Given that the Argyll Ferries contract is due to continue until June 2017, achieving reliability on this service must be the key and immediate priority on the route. And, given that Argyll Ferries is subsidised by the taxpayer, Ministers ultimately have a duty to ensure the reliability of Argyll Ferries; this is the very least local commuters and visitors deserve. A 32% cancellation rate of Argyll ferries sailings in March this year is simply not acceptable. Calmac’s record elsewhere is much better so we must assume it is due to the wrong type of vessel.
“The residents of Dunoon and Cowal have, in contrast to being let down by successive Scottish governments over the town centre to town centre service, thankfully been well served for the past 40 years by the alternative Western Ferries’ passenger and vehicle service which is frequent, reliable and affordable - its fares are cheaper than the subsidised service - and receives not one penny of subsidy from the taxpayer.
"I am delighted that Western Ferries will soon have two brand new British-built vessels on the route - the MV Sound of Seil and the MV Sound of Soay - which will further increase Western Ferries’ capacity and already exemplary reliability record, and which demonstrate the company’s commitment to the communities it serves. Before the removal of the subsidised vehicular town centre route in 2011, Western Ferries was already carrying the vast majority of vehicles between Gourock and the Cowal peninsula. There is also a good connecting bus service from Dunoon to Glasgow via Western Ferries.
“Nonetheless, I recognise that the Dunoon-Gourock Ferry Action Group are continuing to campaign for a reinstated vehicle and passenger service on the town centre route. I note that the Scottish Government’s feasibility study has suggested that a vehicle and state-subsidised passenger service on the town centre route "could be feasible", although many ferry industry operators remain sceptical about this.
"It is for the Scottish Government to set out in detail on what basis such a ferry service could be feasible and how this would comply with EU regulations on competition.
"How much of the extra capital funding allocated for ferries in 2015/16 is specifically for the Dunoon-Gourock route?
"I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on this subject, and I am happy to continue to support my constituents in Dunoon and Cowal - and indeed across the whole of my region - as they seek the best possible ferry services for their communities”.