SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, has stressed that communities must see tangible operational improvements as part of the new Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) contract.

It was announced this afternoon by the Transport Minister that Scottish Ministers’ preferred way forward would be to explore a direct award of the CHFS contract, rather than a competitive tendering process. The Minister said that a due diligence process will establish the feasibility of this approach from a financial, operational and legal perspective before a final decision is taken.

Following the Minister’s statement, the islands’ MSP asked:

“What will the Government now do, through any directly awarded new contract, to hold CalMac’s senior management’s feet to the fire, given the widely expressed concerns that, under the existing contract, the leadership of the company has felt remote from the communities which it serves?”

In response, Transport Minister Fiona Hyslop said:

“I think the Member makes a very important point. He has been very assiduous in pursuing this issue on behalf of his constituents. I do think that a direct award would allow service delivery to be more flexible. I do think, in terms of the changes that are required, there needs to be a change in the management culture and ethos, relationships with key communities and indeed customers are critical to that. They are not just running a timetable, they must run a public service.”

Commenting, Allan said:

“However ferries are run in the islands in future, operational and communications improvements to services are needed. Any direct award of this contract must not be a carte blanche for CalMac to go about business as usual.

“As outlined by the Transport Minister, the new contract, if awarded directly, must ensure a shift in ethos towards public service delivery as opposed to the existing commercial model, something which communities have been calling for. The introduction of meaningful performance indicators is also very welcome, and will be very helpful in identifying and measuring progress on areas in need of improvement.

“It is imperative that local residents and commercial customers are supported in contributing meaningfully to what is included in the new CHFS contract, and that the views of those who will be using these lifeline services are fully considered.”

Transport Scotland officials will hold a series of engagement events over the next few weeks, including one in Lewis on the 22nd November, to help shape the next CHFS contract. These engagement events will be followed by a wider public consultation commencing in December.

The exchange between Alasdair Allan and the Transport Minister can be viewed in full here.

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