Kilcreggan’s chaotic ferry service should be taken over by the Scottish Government immediately, a special debate at Holyrood was told today.
Jackie Baillie made the plea to transport minister Humza Yousaf after listing a catalogue of problems including breakdowns, the boat being impounded by the MCA, lack of holiday cover and last week an arrest after an alleged fight between crew members.
“You just couldn’t make this stuff up,” she said, adding that the Peninsula Choir’s song Oor Wee Ferry should be Christmas number one.
Mr Yousaf reiterated that Transport Scotland was committed to taking over the route, but he said ‘true costs’ needed to be established – Clydelink first won the contract with Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) after undercutting the previous operators by an enormous margin, but has struggled to pay bills for use of the pier since then.
With passengers in the public gallery of the Scottish Parliament, including Rev Christine Murdoch who is planning a public meeting on the issue, MSPs from all parties united in calling for action urgently, saying SPT should not be allowed to continue running the lifeline service.
Ms Baillie said: “Passengers use the ferry to get to work, college or university and access health services based predominantly in hospitals south of the Clyde. The impact of the disruption on their daily lives cannot be underestimated.
“I have spoken to constituents who have missed job opportunities because they couldn’t get to their interview, others who have been disciplined because of their timekeeping and others who have given up on the ferry completely and moved out of the area.
“The impact on my constituents and those from across the river is huge. We have been patient but my community is not patient any more.
“We have put up with this for seven months and we are not prepared to put up with this for any longer. Para Handy would be better than this shambles.
“I urge the Scottish Government and SPT to get beyond the reassurances and take action, and do it now.”
Inverclyde MSP Stuart McMillan accused SPT of ‘chicanery’ on the issue, going back to a press release from 2012 which had promised a new purpose-built boat – the second-hand Island Princess appeared instead, and it had suffered from repeated breakdowns.
Maurice Corry said the passenger numbers were low, but joined the chorus of praise for the choir’s song. were low because of the unreliable service.
“This project was coordinated by my team as a community project to highlight these issues and to bring to the attention of the Scottish Government the frustration that’s caused, not just within Kilcreggan and Cove, but also in Gourock and Greenock,” he said.
“This has created attention as far away as Australia and California, where the choir were wished good luck in sorting out our service, and applauded as a local community for raising issues in such a creative and unique way.
Quoting the song, he said: “We need our wee ferry and we need it now.”
Transport Minister Humza Yousaf also congratulated those behind the song and said they were quite entitled to make a song and dance about the problem, as it was borne out of very real anger and frustration.
He stressed that SPT was responsible for the ferry, although the Scottish Government is willing to be responsible for all lifeline ferries subject to the principles set out in the Ferries Plan.
One such condition was ‘the issue of the true cost of the ferry service’ – referring to the 30 defects found by the MCA, which were revealed here, he said he would have to know the true cost which would include perhaps replacing the vessel and acquiring a back-up.
“There are some very legitimate concerns and questions that we have about the true cost,” he said.
Invitations to tender to SPT close on Monday, and Mr Yousaf said he would then talk to SPT chair Martin Barton about the expressions of interest that had come forward.
“Every single member here is absolutely right in saying that the service provided by the operator is simply not acceptable,” he said.