Summing up in the Scottish Parliament debate on the TICC Committee report on Ferry Services in Scotland, the Committee’s Deputy Convener, Cathy Peattie said:
I thank our committee clerks and back-up teams for their commitment, hard work and patience throughout our inquiry.
The debate has highlighted the vital role that ferry services play in our island communities’ economic and social lives. The committee’s report concluded that “ferries represent much more than simply a transport link.” They “play an active role in promoting diverse communities and encouraging families and young people to live on our islands” and “they help promote inward investment in these communities to sustain their economic well-being and development.”
The report contains key messages that the debate has reinforced. We have heard several interesting speeches. I cannot cover them all, but they raised lots of ideas, such as connectivity, the European inquiry, the importance of PSOs and an increase in services. The committee received information from many people, which I will speak about.
In closing the debate on the committee’s behalf, I will say a few words about our inquiry, which—as other members have noted—was a substantial and wide-ranging piece of work. It was the first major inquiry in the Scottish Parliament into ferry services. The committee heard from almost 50 witnesses at seven public committee meetings. We received 100 written submissions and more than 330 people took part in online surveys. We publicised our call for views by placing leaflets in English and Gaelic on board ferries throughout Scotland. We were certainly not short of information or suggestions on how to improve ferry services. The committee felt that it was important to hear at first hand from ferry users, trade unions and other stakeholders. In that respect, our inquiry was a good model of how to engage with the public.
The committee travelled outwith Edinburgh as much as possible. As we heard from the convener, committee members travelled to Oban and Shetland, arranged informal meetings and visits on Arran and in Mallaig, Gourock and Dunoon, and held videoconferences with ferry users on Orkney, Barra, the Uists, Tiree and Lewis. I thank all the individuals and organisations who made time to give the committee their views, informally or formally. The number of views that we received is testament to the passionate opinion of ferry users on the use and future of ferry services in Scotland.
A key area on which the committee made important recommendations is accessibility. Members know of my long-standing interest in the issue. During the time that I was convener of the Equal Opportunities Committee, the committee examined in some detail accessibility, including in terms of public transport, and published its findings in the report “Removing Barriers and Creating Opportunities”. A key recommendation of that report was: “that the Scottish Executive develop a coherent and comprehensive strategy for achieving equality of mobility for disabled people across Scotland.”
The committee made strong recommendations in its report on the accessibility of ferry services. We said: “The Committee … considers it essential that the accessibility of ferries is treated as a priority issue by the Scottish Government and that the pace of improvement in this area increases “, before going on to recommend “that the Scottish Government fully integrates accessibility issues as part of its forthcoming ferries review and identifies scope for bringing existing ferries and infrastructure up to modern standards wherever possible. ”
I am pleased that the Scottish Government has agreed to include accessibility within the scope of its review. I hope that public transport users and MACS will form part of the steering group, so that the views of disabled ferry users can be made.
The Scottish Government told the committee that it will identify the “scope for bringing existing ferries and infrastructure up to modern standards wherever possible”, but warned that “modifications to existing vessels to improve access may in some cases be impractical.”
We recognise the challenges that many vessels, ports and landing stages present, but more should be done to improve accessibility of ferry services.
I turn to the ways in which I believe the inquiry has been a success. We recommended that the Government give a specific timetable for completion of its review. I am pleased that it has done just that. The report has also helped to shape the remit of the Government review. I will give just one example. We recommended that the Government consider the introduction of faster and more fuel-efficient ships and catamarans. I am pleased that it has included those proposals in the remit for the review and that it has taken on board a number of our other proposals. The review will also take account of the substantial written and oral evidence that we received. Most important, I believe that we have put ferry services firmly on the political agenda, given our demand in the report for the Scottish Government to adopt a bolder and more strategic approach to the subject.
The report sets out a clear vision for the future of ferry services in Scotland. We drew heavily on the views that we received from local communities and we made clear recommendations for the action that is needed to deliver service improvement. The Scottish Government has made a positive response to many of our proposals. Our role is now to monitor the work of the review to ensure that the Government fully meets the needs and aspirations of ferry users throughout the country.