Ferries debate: statement by Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth

Opening statement by Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth to the ferries debate in the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh, on Wednesday 11 May 2022.

Presiding Officer, I have some good news to share with Parliament.

Indeed Presiding Officer, I have that good news literally here, in my hand.

The missing document has been found.

Ministers were advised of this by officials shortly before noon today and I wanted to take the first available opportunity to give Parliament this news.

The document is an email that makes clear who approved the decision to award the contract to build vessels 801 and 802 to Ferguson’s shipyard.

Sent in response to the key submission on 8 October 2015, it is dated 9 October at 14:32 and it reads:

“The Minister is content with the proposals and would like [them] to be moved on as quickly as possible please.”

Presiding Officer, the email was sent by the office of the Minister for Transport and Islands.

Presiding Officer, I hold in my hand that irrefutable documentary evidence that this decision was made rightly and properly by the then Transport Minister, Derek Mackay.

We said we would continue to look in good faith and we have – that is exactly what we have done.

It was found because a copy of an email chain had been retained by someone in Scottish Government finance department because the then Finance Secretary was briefed on the decision. 

By chance, a copy of that email chain – between two officials who left government some years ago – includes the email from the Transport Minister’s Private Office and was buried in someone’s electronic files.

The email confirms what we said it would say – it is basically one line long because that is how the system of government works.

Presiding Officer, this documentation has been provided to the Auditor General and is now being published as I speak alongside all the other documents that we have already published relating to this matter, on the government’s website.

This email destroys the opposition’s ridiculous conspiracy theories that another Minister made this decision.

It destroys their unfounded speculation that there was a Ministerial direction given.

Presiding Officer I do welcome this opportunity to discuss ferry issues again today.

Our ferry network as we all know is as intrinsic to those who live on our mainland as roads might be for the rest of us – they are islanders motorways, as I was told recently by the Shetland Hauliers Association, and the government has got to get to improving how we deliver ferry services, and we’ve got to do that correctly.

Presiding Officer, we all owe it to our islanders to do better on the debate on Ferries.

We’ve got to lift the tone.

I was really reminded of this on a call last week with the Arran Ferry Committee, where we reflected on some of the lessons learned from their recent outage on the MV Caledonian Isles.

Sheila Gilmore, who is the Chief Executive of Visit Arran, has spoken of the reputational damage that the outage caused – and indeed, some news reports the weekend the outage began, incorrectly reported that all routes to Arran were off.

I think we all, irrespective of party in the chamber, must support the return of tourism to our island communities, which of course in 2022 will be absolutely vital to many businesses and to families.

Presiding Officer I’ve already today been absolutely clear that communities are not currently always getting the service they need – that needs to change – but I would suggest they don’t need the opposition’s very own version of Groundhog Day either.

What our island communities need is accurate, fair and well informed commentary and debate, about the challenges but also I think the opportunities for their economies and communities.

Ferries and resilient transport connectivity is absolutely key to ensuring Scotland’s islands thrive and flourish and I’m determined to do all that I can do to make that happen, and everyone in the Scottish Government is determined to make that happen additionally. I hope the opposition will join me in that endeavour.

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