Parliament hears of ferry concerns

Transport Minister Keith Brown has again been urged to intervene with SPT over the Kilcreggan to Gourock ferry service.

Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie and Greenock and Inverclyde MSP Duncan McNeil both called for urgent action during General Question Time in the Scottish Parliament last week, with Mr McNeil claiming there was a ‘hidden agenda’ to axe the service altogether.

Jackie told the Cabinet Secretary that current service was failing to meet minimum standards with poor alternative arrangements in place to help passengers commute across the River Clyde.

The Minister agreed to continue raising concerns with both SPT and Transport Scotland but stated that he was unable to intervene in the running of the route.

Jackie Baillie has also called for an independent inquiry into the ferry contract.

Jackie said afterwards: “This is not good enough. People in Kilcreggan and Gourock are being left stranded and the Scottish Government must do more to insist that SPT take action to secure a reliable ferry service.

“Since the new service began, there has been several days when the ferry has been out of commission – with only one of these cancellations relating to poor weather.

“Passengers are being forced to make alternative arrangements and it is a huge inconvenience to employees working at Faslane & Coulport, particularly when the announcements are made at the last minute.

“The Base workers account for over half the passengers on the ferry on a daily basis.

“Passengers are additionally frustrated as it would appear that despite a contractual obligation to do so, a back up replacement vessel is not being made available.

“The provision of a 12-seater vessel is completely inadequate, given that more than 50 people use this service during peak periods.

“The alternative arrangements in place are a bus service, taking three hours for a return journey which is not acceptable nor practical for those using the service to get to and from their employment.

“Passengers now have very little confidence in both the service provision and the safety of the boat used.  I am extremely concerned about the sustainability of the service if things are allowed to continue in their present form.”

Mr McNeil said in Parliament: “The troubles that the current ferry crossing faces were entirely predictable and the position is now becoming farcical. SPT’s response to passengers’ concerns is completely unacceptable, and it has led some to conclude that SPT is not merely seeking efficiencies for the public purse but is operating a hidden agenda to end the service altogether and blame the passengers for that outcome.”

Mr Brown replied: “I have sought to raise with SPT the legitimate concerns that Duncan McNeil has raised with me. In addition to that, Transport Scotland has remained engaged with SPT as further issues have arisen—Jackie Baillie has raised such issues with me.

“I am happy to raise the issues, but I have made clear the extent of my responsibility in that regard, and I think that Duncan McNeil has acknowledged that. We can raise concerns, but I cannot rerun a procurement process that is run by another public body.

“Of course, we do not currently plan to take over the service, which SPT has just tendered for. All that I can say in response to the points that Duncan McNeil raises is that I will continue to look at any further issues that he has and will ensure, as I have tried to do so far, that SPT responds timeously to the points that he raises.”

Jackie Baillie added that passengers now had very little confidence in the level of service or the safety of the boat: “Does the minister agree that such poor standards fall below the service provider’s contractual obligations to SPT? Will he continue his extremely helpful approach and once again assist Duncan McNeil and me in securing a reliable and safe service for our constituents?”

Mr Brown replied: “Jackie Baillie’s last point is very good. We are all trying to achieve the same thing. Again, I say that I cannot jump into the contract discussions or into a dispute where it appears on the surface that a contract is not being adhered to.

“However, I am happy to give the assurance again that I will continue to raise issues that are raised with me. I repeat that we are all after the same thing. We all want to ensure that the service runs regularly and reliably and according to the contract.”

Stuart McMillan, SNP member for West Scotland, added: “The disruption to the Gourock to Kilcreggan ferry service is not only affecting naval base staff; it is affecting national health service staff, who are struggling to get to work at Inverclyde royal hospital, due to the infrequency of the service. Will the minister ask Audit Scotland to investigate the tendering process, as the running of the service is clearly not delivering for passengers?

Mr Brown repeated that he could not interfere but Mr McMillan could contact Audit Scotland himself.

The full debate is recorded here.

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