The Scottish Ferries Review was launched in August 2008 and was set out to provide a long term strategic plan for life line ferry services in Scotland. In November 2009 there was some scary news about a one ferry port per island recommendation but nothing like that ever ended up in the final plan. In June 2010 the government published a Consultation Document and last month, on the 19th of December 2012 the final document has been published with a plan covering the period from 2013 to 2022. The outcome is important for Islay and the neighbouring Islands such as Jura and Colonsay, and even more so for the plans for an Islay owned ferry. If Calmac, and the government, can guarantee a year round two ferries service to Islay for the foreseeable future then the community owned ferry wouldn't be necessary.
A statement from Transport Minister, Keith Brown
"The long term future of ferry services in Scotland is vital not only for Scotlandâ€™s economic wellbeing but also for the people in our island and remote communities. Having concluded an extensive consultation which saw over 2000 responses, today we are laying out how we will expand and improve ferry services across Scotland. Continue reading....
"Despite the substantial financial pressures placed on us by Westminster, we are determined to make good on our promise to deliver improved ferry services on a progressive basis and the Final Ferries Plan will be our cornerstone in doing just that. "The plan identifies 15 new vessels to come into service between now and 2025 worth over Â£295 million, the first of which was launched this week on the Clyde and due to be operational next summer. Over the same period we have also laid out an investment plan for port and harbour works worth Â£73 million, significantly enhancing our ferry infrastructure to meet new vessels demands and service improvements. "We are also announcing today that the RET formula has been updated to reflect the current equivalent costs of driving a car. Fares for passengers, cars and small commercial vehicles on services to the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree in 2013 will be updated, with the same formula being used to set fares in Islay, Colonsay and Gigha bringing consistency across all RET routes on the network.
"The additional revenue generated by applying the updated RET formula for passengers, cars and small commercial vehicles will be reinvested in commercial vehicle fares, in order to reduce the impact of the removal of RET for commercial vehicles on services to the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree. We will also provide additional funding for commercial vehicles so that no fare will rise by more than 10% in 2013. The average increase for passenger, car and small commercial vehicle fares on these routes is 8.2% with the maximum on any individual route limited to 10.6%. And of course in order for RET to be sustainable, it has to be reviewed regularly. "After a thorough consultation and detailed analysis of service provision, the final Ferries Plan will, I believe, give communities, businesses and visitors alike more services with the necessary vessels and infrastructure to match. We want to see real change for the better for those who rely so heavily on our ferry links, and those views, needs and aspirations have been foremost in our minds as we seek to take ferry services forward over the next decade with purpose, determination and vigour."
The following comprises extracts from The Ferries Review concerning Islay & Jura
Islay currently has two ferry routes linking Kennacraig with Port Askaig and Port Ellen. This is a popular route with approximately 175,000 passenger, 55,000 non-commercial vehicle and 10,000 commercial vehicle trips made during the calendar year 2011. Currently two vessels operate the route including the MV Finlaggan, the journey time taking between two and two-and-a-half hours. During the summer time-table period there are four sailings per day from Monday to Saturday, and three on a Sunday, from either Port Askaig or Port Ellen. The majority of services, around three in every four, arrive and depart from Port Ellen. The first service is typically around 7am with the last service leaving around 6pm. During the summer time-table period Islay also benefits from a return sailing on a Wednesday from Port Askaig, via Colonsay, to Oban. The winter time-table is broadly comparable. A shuttle passenger and vehicle service links Jura residents with Port Askaig and mainland ferry services. This service is currently provided by the Local Authority.
Assessment of Current Service Provision to Islay & Jura
Our needs-based assessment of the mainland services from Islay has indicated that the existing service already meets the needs of the community and should therefore be retained at its current level. We did not have sufficient information to carry out a full needs based assessment for Jura. However, we recognised that as the ferry service runs to Islay, there is a need to consider the level of accessibility available between Jura and Islay. We identified two cost effective options: (a) for onward travel only to the Scottish mainland, Jura residents would qualify for free travel between Jura and Islay, and (b) a rebalancing of service provision from Port Ellen to Port Askaig, on the basis that the latter is much more centrally located for Islay and Jura.
Future service provision
The intention is to move forward with the first proposal, to offer zero cost fares when the journey includes onward travel to and from the Scottish mainland. This was broadly welcomed by Jura residents in the Draft Ferries Plan consultation. This proposal is dependent on the outcome of the discussions with Argyll & Bute Council about transferring responsibility for their Local Authority ferry services to Scottish Government.
Service levels to Port Ellen/Port Askaig
The proposal to shift service provision from Port Ellen to Port Askaig was also welcomed by Jura residents but attracted significant opposition from many residents of Islay. Around three-quarters of Islay residents that responded to the consultation disagreed with this proposal expressing concern about the potential impact on the local economy and journey times. We have been mindful of this representation from Islay. But we also are required to balance this against the needs of residents of Jura. We have concluded that rather than a significant rebalancing of services from Port Ellen to Port Askaig, the intention would be to shift one service per week on a Saturday. This change is the direct consequence of our proposals for Colonsay (see below) and will apply for the summer period only. As well as improving services to Colonsay by providing an additional sailing day, it also marginally improves accessibility for residents of Jura without significantly changing the current balance of services between Port Askaig and Port Ellen. As a temporary step we will for the summer months introduce a service on a Saturday from Colonsay, via Islay, to Kennacraig. This will be the second sailing out of Kennacraig to Islay, going via Port Askaig rather than Port Ellen. A service to Kennacraig is already provided during the winter months on a Saturday.
Editor's note from Carl Reavey - Ileach Newspaper
So the Government has finally published its "Final Ferries Plan" - a document that has been so long in coming that it has assumed an almost mythical status. As is often the case when politicians try and put together a review of services based on what amounts to lobbying activities from special interest groups, they take the route of least resistance, and have opted for minimal change. The overview is therefore that Scottish ferry services will continue to be run by the Scottish Government, and that they will continue to be tendered as a single "bundle".
The list of "improvements" that the Government is aiming for (subject, as always, to the availability of funding...) is not that impressive. Most of the "additional" services which are puffed about are actually already in place, but the aim is to add an additional vessel to the fleet - enabling a two vessel service to Mull. Should this ever happen it would enable a number of other knock-on improvements.
Fares on the original RET routes to the Western Isles will rise by 8-10% bringing them into line with the second round of RET routes (including Islay) which (our information suggests) will rise according to the RPI, currently 2.7%. Only slightly worrying is that the Ferries Review is out of date already - it claims that Islay gets just "four sailings per day from Monday to Saturday". No we donâ€™t.... We get five a day Monday to Friday and that is the way it should stay thank you very much.
The â€˜Hebridean Islesâ€™ is to be replaced by 2016, subject to funding being available.
The balance between Port Askaig and Port Ellen sailings will remain the same (testament once again to the power and effectiveness of the Port Ellen letter writing lobby).
There is no suggestion that the level of public subsidy of CalMac/CMAL is to be cut, indeed it is expected to increase.
There is no indication whatever that the Government has any intention of challenging, or even acknowledging the existence of, the elephant in the room, being the RMT. Pre-Christmas events in the Northern Isles and on the railways show just how scary a prospect that would be.