Scotland’s biggest ferry operator has handed back £6 million to the Scottish Government as part of a claw-back deal to recover excess profits.

Caledonian MacBrayne, which is wholly owned by the Scottish Government, receives a substantial subsidy to run the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service.

However, government body Transport Scotland can reclaim some of this subsidy if profits exceed those agreed by the operator.

In a statement on its website, CalMac claimed its “efficient and effective service delivery” over 2016-17, the first year of the contract, led to the money being returned.

While Western Isles Labour candidate Alison MacCorquodale criticised the claw-back, saying the money could have been spent improving the service, the Scottish Government defended the move as “common sense”.

A government spokesman said: “The contract to run the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service relies on a significant Scottish Government subsidy which is why a claw-back mechanism is included to recover excess profits over and above those bid by the operator and ensure taxpayers receive the best value for money.

“This mechanism ensures the operator only receives the correct amount of subsidy to compensate it for the shortfall between what it receives in fares from passengers and what it costs to run the service.

“The Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service contract is set up to ensure the operator is paid for what they actually deliver, which most people would hopefully recognise as common sense.”

CalMac reported that 99.5 per cent of their services had run within ten minutes of the scheduled times last year.

However, this year has so far seen a different picture with repair delays causing widespread disruption to services.

Earlier this week, the Scottish Government announced plans to invest £3.5m in Scotland’s ferry services to reduce the risk of vessels breaking down and return them to service quicker if they do.

The move, announced by transport minister Michael Matheson, aims to stop ferries being out of service for extended periods.

Mr Matheson said: “We are very much aware that, as our ferries age, additional resources will be needed to keep the vessels running so our island communities stay connected.

“The funds will be used to upgrade or replace key systems and equipment on the vessels. This will be tackled on a priority basis to avoid potential vessel breakdowns and delays to the ferry service and customers.”