Threat of Year or More Delay to Lochboisdale to Mallaig Ferry

01 October 2008

The Scottish Government is insisting that CalMac will have to go to open tender for the only vessel available to do the Lochboisdale to Mallaig route.

The vessel was found by Storas Uibhist after CalMac had failed to find a vessel in a worldwide search.

The move to force a tendering process which could take at least a year to complete is being described as "a ludicrous a waste of time" by Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Peter Peacock.

The Minister's insistence on the need to go to tender follows a series of Parliamentary Questions tabled by Peter Peacock as part of the continuing effort he is making on behalf of the community to secure the ferry service.

Peter Peacock said, "Over recent weeks the situation has become more confused and the Minister has appeared to contradict earlier assurances he had the money to fund the service and that it was possible for CalMac to deliver the service within the terms of their existing contract."

Peter Peacock also claims that since the Government's own organisation searched for a vessel and failed to find one it seems ridiculous that the service should be delayed to go through an exercise that is unlikely to produce any competition.

And he suspects the real reason for insisting on a process the Minister says will typically take at least a year is because the Minister has spent the money he previously said was available for the route on other things and needs to delay the route starting in the hope he can scrape up the cash in future budgets.

Peter Peacock said, "As every week goes by there is another twist in this saga.

"This time the twist may mean substantial delay in a service that could transform the fortunes of the Uists and Barra.

"We have the extraordinary position of a huge public demand for a service, a vessel available, the opportunity to enhance services to Lochboisdale and Mallaig and give people more choice in where to travel, and the Minister until recently has said he has the cash available, yet progress seems almost impossible.

"While the SNP were in opposition they made all sorts of claims about how unnecessary it was to tender ferry routes, now they appear to be insisting it will have to be done.

"The Minister needs to end the uncertainty, make clear he wants this service to start and get his officials on to sorting the problems.

"That includes a case not to put the vessel procurement to open tender, given the circumstances."

Peter Peacock has tabled a further series of questions in Parliament to press the Minister on the need to tender.

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