Ferry Postscript

Campaign for Rosyth ferry link to Europe floated again | Dunfermline Press

ALBA MP Kenny MacAskill raises pertinent questions about Scotland’s current ferry problems. But is the Scottish government listening? Is anybody listening? Is ScotGov bothered?

IRELAND HAS FERRIES TO EUROPE – SCOTLAND HAS NONE

The sea can be viewed either as an obstacle to transport or a means to achieve it. For long Scotland was in the former category, building great ships and sailing the Seven Seas. Recently, though, it’s been the latter, as maritime links shrank and then the Rosyth direct service to Europe ended in 2010.

But with Brexit beckoning, you’d have thought steps to prepare for difficulties would have been embarked upon. Ireland, foreseeing issues, more than just delays, at customs expanded its maritime links.

Existing services were added to and options established. Dublin, Rosslare and Cork have passenger ferry services into France and Spain, with additional freight-only services going to the low countries, as well as those countries. Brexit has happened but Ireland was ready and prepared.

Road freight too began to change the old habits with those in the north of the island who would previously have taken the short north channel crossing to Scotland and then the motorway to ports in the south of England. Now it’s a direct service to the continent, allowing goods and passengers in as well as out.

South of the Border, some steps, many as solid as a landlubber on a stormy sea, were taken, from lorry parks at Dover to costly failed attempts to reopen ports.

But in Scotland there seems to have been precisely nothing. Brexit came as did Covid and Rosyth became a dock for berthed cruise liners. Scottish exporters struggled to get their goods out whether through Hull, or more distant English Channel ports. It wasn’t just customs but distance and delay.

And that was even before the current driver and fuel shortages hit. The former has been coming and you’d have thought steps to address it would be made.

One way of dealing with it is by sending what’s termed “unaccompanied freight”. That simply means you put the trailer or container on a ferry and no driver’s needed. Cost may still have been an obstacle before for using sea freight but as fuel shortages bite – and we’re told higher fuel prices are here to stay – it may prove to be cheaper than road or rail alternatives.

So why has nothing been done? The Scottish government say they support it but it has to be commercial. But if that were applied to rail we’d probably only have the Glasgow-Edinburgh line operating.

Road travel is already subsidised, as we pay to construct the motorway network and that’s not an inconsiderable amount. So why can’t we do as in Ireland and provide some incentives for a maritime motorway?

Funding used to be available through the EU and its incumbent on the UK government to detail what support will now be available for ports or operators. A port that actually operates is of more urgent need to Scotland than a freeport.

Before and during May’s Scottish elections, the Greens promoted the re-opening of routes from Rosyth. It’s time they delivered continental ferry services for the country, not just ministerial limos for themselves.

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3 Responses to Ferry Postscript

  1. Kyle More says:

    One of the main problems is that our most strategic ports have been handed over to outfits much more interested in property developments than developing port infrastructure.

    Normally port authorities would be falling over themselves to attract and develop new traffics – not so apparently Forth Ports – unbelievably owned by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board – of Canada!

    They are interested in maintaining the land value of their “asset” and not in developing the Port for the good of Scotland’s people and industry.

    And the SNP do nothing – it should have been taken over and made into a public trust years ago, one of many things the SNP should have done “years ago”.

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    You make some excellent points, Kyle. I shall pass them to our marine industry expert, Professor Baird. He will probably respond.

  3. alfbaird says:

    Kyle More, you are right, Scotland’s major seaports on the great firths and rivers Clyde, Forth and Tay are all owned by offshore private equity outfits and ‘funds’, and regulated by them(!), and traded between them from time to time. This is an entirely dysfunctional ‘model’ of port governance for any country not least because it actually inhibits creation of new competitive port infrastructure, which is one reason most other nations use a quite different approach (e.g. tendering port operating ‘concessions’ by the state).

    These weaknesses and more were outlined in my Reid Foundation paper, which contains many references to research in this area going back to port privatisation in the early 1990s, including suggestions for change, which the daeless SNP Scottish Government have totally ignored, as you mention, and they are still lacking any coherent ports and maritime policy: https://reidfoundation.scot/2016/01/sort-out-our-ports/

    I hear that the SG may be working with a ferry operator to get another service started so we shall no doubt see what that brings, however the port governance weaknesses will remain a constraining factor unless dealt with properly.

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