Labour’s General Election candidate for Argyll and Bute has called for major reform of the way Scotland’s ferry services are governed and operated.
Mary Galbraith criticised the lack of local representation on the boards of Scotland’s ferry authorities - and accused the Scottish Government of pursuing a “privatisation agenda” on the issue, echoing concerns expressed by her party colleague David Stewart MSP.
Ms Galbraith said: “It’s unbelievable that not one person from Argyll and Bute, the Western Isles, Skye or Lochaber is deemed fit to serve on the boards of the ferry organisations which make decisions that affect every family and business on our islands.
“Over the past eight years we’ve watched as the SNP neglect these crucial public service, and appoint people to oversee our ferry services who themselves don’t rely on them or live in a community served by a CalMac ferry.
“Every week we learn more about the privatisation agenda within the Scottish Government. The new Stornoway ferry is owned by Lloyd’s Bank, and leased back to CMAL, under terms we’re not allowed to know. A tendering process is now under way, and private companies like Serco and Stagecoach will be privy to details that are denied to islanders. It’s not on.”
Ms Galbraith said Labour would reform the boards of the ferry and transport agencies, including David MacBrayne, CalMac Ferries Ltd and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd - though power over transport is not an immediate issue at next month’s Westminster election, since transport is a subject devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
“There’s a complex network of responsibilities between these companies, and ultimately the SNP ministers and Transport Scotland have also taken decisions that their appointed boards then implement,” Ms Galbraith continued.
“The last people to have a say are the islanders and communities who use the services. Labour will change this for good, and make sure that local communities and businesses inform and shape future ferry services.
“As a first step, these boards must make themselves available to local communities. I’ve written to the chairmen of each board asking them to meet, all together, with each local community that relies on ferry services. ”
Referring to the secrecy and lack of information about the forthcoming ferry tendering process, Ms Galbraith said: “It is insulting to island communities for the SNP it hide behind commercial confidentiality.
“[It is ]particularly important to secure the information because it will be intolerable if companies like Serco and Stagecoach receive full details of route costs, freight income and ferry leases etc, while the people of the Argyll and Bute are kept totally in the dark.
“The Scottish Government ministers underestimate local people if they think we cannot see the cynical manipulation of the tender process for what it is. The SNP has postponed the tendering decision until three weeks after the next Scottish Parliament elections.
“Our lifeline ferry services are too important to be manipulated for political gain.
“This process should be about protecting island ferry services, jobs and our communities. If this process is to have a modicum of integrity it must be truncated and the decision taken months before the Scottish Parliament elections.”