It was only a few short weeks ago that I made a statement to Parliament confirming the publication of Project Neptune.
I made clear my intent to engage with all parties in this chamber. And noting the detailed findings of that report all MSPs should now have received an invitation to meet with the report’s author’s Ersnt and Young.
I also made clear the need for consultation with stakeholders – next week I will meet with Calmac and CMAL as we begin to develop the options and next steps for reform.
But crucially – our island communities must be part of any reform of Governance structures in relation to the delivery of ferry services on the Clyde and Hebrides network.
I am pleased that Angus Campbell, Chair of the Ferries Communities board, has agreed to lead our community consultation work on Project Neptune’s next steps. And I will also meet with Mr Campbell next week.
Presiding Officer, I was very clear in my statement to Parliament that things have got to improve for our island communities.
I know there is a need for pace on next steps, that must also be coupled with respect for the staff involved.
I undertook to return to Parliament to debate the next steps for Project Neptune fully, and I hope that the consensual tone struck in responding to that Parliamentary statement will be reflected in the contributions today.
As the Conservative motion notes, Project Neptune sets out viable alternatives to the current structure. I will work with all parties to secure agreement on a streamlined approach which will better deliver for islanders.
Presiding Officer, as the motion calls for today – the Government has committed to a long term plan for investment in vessels and port infrastructure later this year as key components of the Island Connectivity Plan.
This will build on the investments being delivered in the Infrastructure Investment Plan, which committed to £580m to provide new vessels and port upgrades.
Let me reflect on the progress to date.
We have secured the Loch Frisa and have her operating on the Oban to Mull route. We have been through the procurement process for two new Islay vessels that will significantly increase capacity on the Islay route and accelerates the replacement of the fleet.
I am pleased to confirm that we expect the first steel to be cut on these vessels next week - on time and in line with the programme for delivery of these ships.
Work is ongoing on replacement vessels for the Isle of Mull, the MV Lord of the Isles and up to 7 vessels in the first phase of the Small Vessel replacement programme.
But I know that additional tonnage is needed in the CalMac fleet. Officials are urgently prioritising options for Ministers at the present time and I hope to be able to say more on this in due course, noting the commercial sensitivities involved.
Presiding Officer, I want to talk to the issue of Winter Resilience which I think is also highlighted by the Conservative motion, because I know islanders may be anxious about the coming months. In January and February alone this year, 92.75% of cancellations were due to either weather or Covid-19.
Therefore, to help reduce the number of delays and cancellations related to weather, we have committed to expand funding for tide and weather monitoring equipment currently in place at CMAL ports to third-party ports.
As part of the consultation on the Islands Connectivity Plan, measurable performance indicators will be developed.
These will be distinct from contractual targets and they will better reflect the real life experience of passengers.
They will be visible and published targets against which we can monitor performance which I think is hugely important.
This year Scottish Government funding is supporting CalMac to invest an additional £5 million to improve fleet sustainability and to give a more resilient service for customers and communities.
Dry dock this year will be extended – that will reduce the level and risk of unplanned disruptions communities are faced with.
CalMac have also made changes to some of the vessel deployment plans to prioritise reliability and improve the quality of the service on certain routes.
And for any prolonged period of disruption, I will convene a resilience group with the Ferries Community Board, CalMac and local partners, as I have done since my appointment in January.
I want to come to the point in relation to ports for 801 & 802 and I know that F have today provided an update to the NZET committee and the government will want to respond to that in further detail.
Ardrossan has not been upgraded because of delays with the private owners of the port. But this overlooks the significant investment that has taken place to ensure the vessel can operate from upgraded facilities at Troon port. Troon has received £3m of Scottish Government support, and will be secured as an alternative port for the Arran service in the longer term.
In addition, the investments in the ports on the Skye triangle means that they will be ready for 802 following the second closure period for works at Uig.
Presiding Officer, I spoke of the need for constructive working across the chamber in relation to Ferries Governance and next steps just weeks ago.
For island businesses, for children and young people and for all of those who depend on these lifeline services – we owe it to them to get this right. I look forward to hearing suggestions from members today to that end.
I move the amendment in my name.
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