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Anas Sarwar demands management overhaul to ease Scotland’s ferry crisis

© Andrew CawleyScottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar in Largs where he met CalMac staff and managers
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar in Largs where he met CalMac staff and managers

Anas Sarwar has demanded the scrapping of the state-run company that owns Scotland’s ferries and ports, branding it “unfit for purpose”.

The Scottish Labour leader called on Scottish ministers to take urgent action over the CalMac service that has seen coastal and island communities, hauliers and tourists suffer regular delays, cancellations and ferry breakdowns.

Sarwar spoke out after meeting CalMac staff at Largs in Ayrshire, where a ferry journey to the island of Cumbrae takes 10 minutes but where, this summer, motorists face delays of up to an hour and a half and passengers half an hour to get on a ferry.

Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) owns Scotland’s ferries and ports, while CalMac runs the ferry service.

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Sarwar said: “The CMAL-CalMac model just hasn’t worked. CMAL is not fit for purpose. It has failed. It needs to go.

“There is no adequate strategy from the government, no adequate fleet, and it requires urgent action.”

Half of the fleet operated by CalMac is more than 25 years old and more than 1,000 ferry sailings have been delayed over the past five years because of mechanical problems.

Last week The Sunday Post told how CMAL had failed to buy any of the 133 vessels looked at in the past 18 months.

Meanwhile, freight vessel MV Arrow had joined CalMac’s fleet on a short-term basis but broke down last weekend, after just five days in service.

Sarwar said: “There isn’t a ­coherent strategy around our ferry infrastructure in Scotland.

“Because we haven’t had a consistent renewal of the fleet, there isn’t a single spare ferry going.

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“Clearly the system is broken and it requires an urgent review that is led by the voices of island and coastal communities about getting the right routes, at the right times, with the right infrastructure.

“From an immediate ­perspective, we need to fill vacancies so we have enough staff. More widely, we need an urgent inquiry led by island and coastal communities about what they need.

“That needs to be overlaid by a government strategy that currently does not exist, and underneath that strategy needs to be investment in the infrastructure, the routes and having a ferry service that is fit for purpose.”

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CMAL said it provided “considerable value”, adding: “We are the only organisation in the public sector in Scotland that possesses the professional and technical skill, expertise and experience to manage large vessel and harbour infrastructure projects.

“This professional resource is critical to maintaining and improving Scotland’s ferry infrastructure. The job can’t be done effectively without our team’s contribution.”

The Scottish Government said: “Ministers work closely with CMAL and are grateful for the hard work of its board and staff to help support our ferry network.

“An independent review of current legal structures and governance arrangements around the provision of ferry services is already under way.

“Transport Scotland, CMAL and David MacBrayne Limited are committed to and actively engaged on this work.”