The Islands Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, has assured MSPs that he was “far from complacent” about the need for improvement in the reliability of ferry services. That’s as it should be. He presented, as if it were a vindication of the Scottish Government’s stewardship of what is undoubtedly the most important factor in the life of island communities, the information that only 0.67 per cent of sailings this year failed to go ahead because of technical issues.

That looks like a low number – and no one would dispute that there are plenty of other factors, not least the kind of weather that affects the Western and Northern coasts of the country, which leads to delays and cancellations, and for which neither the Government nor Caledonian MacBrayne should be blamed.

All the same, a 160 per cent increase in delays and a 130 per cent increase in cancellations over the last decade – or to put it another way, 43,000 cancellations and 39,000 delays since 2007 – doesn’t suggest that this area of transport policy is receiving the attention it deserves.

Jamie Greene, the Tories’ transport spokesman, is right to ask why no revised timetable or costings for new vessels has been provided by Derek Mackay, the Economy Secretary, when it was promised before the end of October. And the Liberal Democrats’ Liam McArthur and Colin Smyth, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, both reasonably draw attention to the costs which affect ferry services as a result of the fact that no concrete plans have been forthcoming – even though previous appraisals have repeatedly made the need for maintenance and new vessels a priority.

The relative longevity of such vessels, and the significant cost of construction, may make it tempting to put things off, or concentrate on other forms of transport, but it ignores immediate costs – a rise in maintenance bills of 150 per cent over the past decade, according to Mr Smyth – and the immense damage that delays and cancellations create for the economies of the islands. And unlike road and rail use, there is often no alternative.

The SNP has in the past shown an understanding of, and a real commitment to, the importance of the service, with the introduction of the Road Equivalent Tariff that, for example, in the pilot scheme for the Ullapool/Stornaway service, reduced fares by almost 50 per cent. But, as with many areas of policy, notably health and education, there is a danger for any government in focusing all its attention and spending on short-term outcomes, while neglecting the need for long-term capital investment.

Any initial gains for those using the service are of limited value if it degenerates to the point where it no longer meets its purpose, or if enormous costs, which should have been foreseen and budgeted for, suddenly present themselves at an inconvenient moment.

Islanders already have to contend with limited or non-existent resources and services compared with those who live in the Central Belt. The least that they deserve is an assurance that the Government is planning sensibly for the provision of the one service on which they are dependent. They will able to judge whether the future is rough water or plain sailing only if the Government’s programme is forthcoming.

Hogmanay hope

Traditional preparation for the New Year was shaving, dusting the house, or totting up the household accounts, or some other means of taking stock and getting ready for what was next. These have all been more attractive than watching the BBC’s annual Hogmanay programme, which has for years now been an uneasy mix of kailyard clichés and second-rate light entertainment, somehow neither traditional nor representative of current Scottish talent. So good luck to the new host, Susan Calman, who promises a mix of “great comedy, entertainment and music”. Achieving the right blend in broadcasting is as tricky as it is for whisky, and judged in the sampling. Still, let’s hope for a guid New Year for ane an’ a’.