UK: Scottish Ferry Services - Draft Plan

Last Updated: 2 February 2012
Article by Neil Amner and Carly Mason


The Scottish Government has published its draft Ferries Plan, following completion of the consultation on the Scottish Ferries Review (click here to view our article – Scottish Ferries Review – An Update). The consultation period for the draft plan closes on 30 March 2014. The draft plan can be viewed by clicking here.

The stated intention is that following the current consultation, a finalised Ferries Plan (including a vessel renewal programme and investment plan, which is not covered in this draft) will be published during the course of 2012.

The draft being consulted upon sets out the Scottish Government's proposals for the provision and support of Scotland's ferry services over the next 10 years. The plan sets out the Scottish Government's views on a number of issues where the Scottish Government is clear about the way forward following the Ferries Review. The consultation seeks to gather opinions and views about the level and type of services each community served by ferries should receive. The Scottish Government consider the results of this consultation will enable them to make decisions on future services required and thus the funding which will be needed.


The draft plan makes it clear that the proposals reflect an awareness of the current financial climate and the likely sustained pressure on public expenditure.

Chapter 2 examines funding and procurement of the ferry services. It explains the current funding arrangements before considering options for future investment requirements.

It is stated that a Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG) type appraisal of each of the routes and service options will be carried out before the final Ferries Plan is published. A full understanding of the level of future investment which will be required will only be possible once what routes and services each community are to receive is determined, in turn allowing decisions to be made on what vessels and ports and harbours are required to provide those services. Therefore, full details of funding requirements will only be determined following completion of this consultation.

The Scottish Ferries Review consultation asked for views on a number of possible ways to secure additional funding. The draft plan does not set out a definitive view on which options the Scottish Government intends to pursue. The current position on the four options is as follows:-

  1. Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited ("CMAL") to access funds

    This option will be looked at further by the Scottish Government including how CMAL might access funds from non-government sources. That is allowing CMAL to raise funds from the private sector and other sources. CMAL's present status as a public corporation means it can only borrow from the Scottish Government which is itself restricted in the amount it can lend.
  2. Make ports and harbours self-funding

    This would be done through setting appropriate levels of harbour dues. CMAL are stated to be looking at the future level of piers and harbour dues and discounts at its facilities with a view to the income generated from them covering ongoing maintenance and repairs. There is also reference in the draft plan to the Scottish Government through CMAL taking responsibility for all ports used for provision of subsidised ferry services which are currently owned by local authorities. If such ports were transferred to CMAL they would then receive the harbour dues and could then ensure that they were reinvested in the ports, which is not always the case currently.

    This, again, is an area where further work is required prior to being able to provide details in the final plan.
  3. Users to provide more of the funding at point of use

    The draft plan refers to "a lack of appetite for increasing fares for any users of ferry services" from the responses to the Ferries Review consultation – not surprisingly! Allowing operators to manage demand on busier sailings is, however, in contemplation.
  4. Open the market up to greater competition

    This is to be subject to a separate policy statement against the background of Scottish Government's reform programme for public sector procurement which is stated to be intended to enhance economic impact and value for money.


Chapter 3 looks in more detail at fares including the problems in balancing the various interests.

The Scottish Government is seeking to:-

  1. Put in place one single over-arching framework of fares replacing the route-specific nature of the current fares;
  2. Roll out Road Equivalent Tariff ("RET") for passengers and cars across the ferries network;
  3. Assist operators in managing demand better;
  4. Developing an over-arching freight fares policy (non-RET) based;
  5. Put in place annual reviews in line with cost of travel;
  6. Promote integrated ticketing and better timetabling with other transport providers.

Funding priorities

Chapter 4 looks at funding priorities and what kind of ferry services should be funded.

This chapter provides an overview of the needs based assessment that has been carried out for each community group requiring ferry services. It then sets out working principles on routes and services, which were used to formulate proposals for each community group.

Reference to the financial constraints is again made here and that thus timing of the proposals set out will be subject to those constraints, seeming to suggest that where expansion plans are proposed, they will be aspirational unless new methods of funding can be found.

The Chapter goes on to set out proposals for each community and invites views and opinions from the community.

Proposals include:-

  1. increasing existing ferry services in either the number of crossings throughout the day or providing crossings over a longer day. Some of these increases would require additional vessels;
  2. where specific islands are currently serviced by two routes replacing those with an enhanced service along one route;
  3. where services have been assessed to meet most of the communities' needs, or exceed them, they would not be altered.

Responsibility for provision of ferry services

Who should be responsible for providing ferry services is covered in Chapter 5. Currently there are a number of different ways in which Scottish ferry services are provided, namely by being:-

  1. funded, managed and tendered by Scottish Government;
  2. funded, managed and tendered by Local Authorities;
  3. funded, managed and tendered by a Regional Transport Partnership;
  4. provided through community funding;
  5. provided through privately commercially run enterprises.

There is no one overall responsible body for provision of ferry services and no consistent responsibility between public sector bodies. The draft plan advises that the Ferries Review consultation responses do not show a clear cut preference for how this should be dealt with but did show a degree of support for the Scottish Government maintaining a major role in ferry service provision. The draft plan expresses the Scottish Government's willingness to be responsible for "lifeline" ferry services in Scotland.

The Chapter goes on to consider transfer of ferry services assessed to the "lifeline" from Local Authorities to Scottish Government where Local Authorities wish to transfer such responsibility.

Accessibility and Environmental Issues

The requirements for accessibility of ferry services and consideration of environmental issues and how to deal with these are dealt with in Chapters 6 and 7 of the draft Plan.


The draft plan provides an indication of Scottish Government thinking on providing a more coherent ferry service nationally. However, the issue of how to fund the ongoing requirements, in particular the vessels and infrastructure looms large.

The consultation questions are aimed at the communities as they relate to the proposed ferry services to be provided going forward. Although there are other areas in the draft plan, where further work is required before details are provided in the final plan these are not subject to further consultation at this time and may not be subject to any further consultation.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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