Scottish Government-owned CalMac and owner CMAL should be scrapped and merged into one body to become more efficient and produce financial savings as part of a revolutionary culture change in the way lifeline services are provided by ferries.

That is one of a series of major recommendations that have emerged from a damning Scottish Government-commissioned community consultation response analysis over the future of Scotland's beleaguered ferry network.

The overview of a series of consultation meetings produced by the Ferries Community Board for the Scottish Government says that a strong case has been made for including the ferries division of the Transport Scotland agency into the new body.

An analysis of common community themes said the current arrangements for running ferries encourages "abdication of responsibility... self-interest and territorial behaviour combined with a duplication of resources and a slow decision making process".

It says there is an overriding feeling that the present system is "just not working for the people it should serve" and that there is a "lack of long term planning from a strategic level".

READ MORE: 'I am very sorry': CalMac forced to prioritise as ferry breakdown causes turmoil

The responses to a Scottish Government-commissioned consultants' study into the future of ferries says that from a business perspective many felt that issues over the ferries were leaving many firms "unsustainable".

It calls for a single ferries board to be formed to oversee the function of ferry provision including the role of Transport Scotland.

The skills mix for the board should include a "sizeable" representation of knowledge island life and also marine expertise of operating ferry services.

Ministers have been told they should make a national commitment to a permanent standard for the maintenance of vessels and ports used in the delivery of the ferry system.

This should include a set age limit on ferries and an ongoing budget provision that will ensure long term investment and renewal.

The Herald: Vehicles board the CalMac ferry MV Bute at Wemyss Bay for Rothesay (Colin Mearns)

Angus Campbell, chairman of the Ferries Communities Board who has authored the crucial consultation analysis ordered by ministers said: "The vast majority of communities do not feel the present ferry system is designed to maximise benefit for islanders. There needs to be reset in the relationship between those designing and managing life line services and the communities they serve.

"That change needs to happen immediately and recognise the common benefits from a collaborative and inclusive approach."

He said without wider changes include "the need" for a culture change "we will simply be moving the deckchairs".

"The gains of such a change are not just for islanders but will help achieve many wider priorities - health and wellbeing, equality, education, depopulation and growing the economy all of which will benefit through islands having fit for purpose ferry services."

Ministers were told there was a strong feeling that more of the management and decision makers should be physically living in the communities affected by their actions to better inform decision making.

The analysis found that there was a strong public perception that those organisations taking crucial decisions are not equipped with the full range of necessary skills.

First-hand knowledge of island life and having direct maritime experience are seen as a necessary part of the skills set that is "largely missing at the moment".

Communication over ferries was seen as "partial and late and in some instances not trusted".

And the study suggests communities should be able to influence how the funds from non-performance are utilised.

READ MORE: Ferry chief says ministers must consider privatising lifeline CalMac services

It comes as concerns rise about the reliability of Scotland's ageing ferry fleet amidst growing calls for millions in performance penalties to be used to compensate islanders who have been hit by disruptions caused by vessels breaking down.

CalMac amassed nearly £12m in fines for poor performance since it took charge of lifeline services with penalties soaring in recent years.

There was nearly £10.5m in performance fines in the six-and-a-half years since CalMac took the franchise - nearly eight times more than in its first nine years in charge of the beleaguered west coast fleet.

The community engagement came after the Project Neptune investigation carried out by global consultants EY (Ernst and Young) issued scathing criticisms of the existing governance structure for the lifeline island ferry services.

The Herald:

It criticised an “absence of long-term planning”, with a “sub-optimal” approach to the maintenance and replacement of vessels, potentially causing “higher than necessary or unforeseen maintenance costs”.

It also supported a move to turn the ferry owners CMAL and operators CalMac into one integrated publicly-owned company responsible for the operation and the supply of vessels on the west coast of Scotland.

The Competition and Markets Authority has previously expressed concern about the "potential risks" of state control over the way ferries are operated, run and paid for.

There has been concern that the service is "cocooned" inside four levels of Scottish Government control with the Transport Scotland agency as funders, the procuring and vessel owning company CMAL, the ferry operators Calmac and the nationalised shipbuilders Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow).

Mr Campbell, who was tasked by former transport Jenny Gilruth to oversee community engagement said: "To make a future contract and organisational changes work we must change the culture of the bodies involved in delivering ferry services. The present situation with historic lack of investment and pressure to keep service going has inevitably led to a culture of make do and mend and a can’t do attitude to change proposals or ideas coming from communities. Communities want to see a future way of working that encourages continual improvement, is reactive to need and shows ambition for our islands.

"This can better be achieved by allowing decision-making to be shared throughout the network where that is appropriate and empower staff and stakeholders to localise outcomes."

CMAL said it welcomed the community analysis and "await the final outcome to help inform future strategy.”

A CalMac spokesman also welcomed it "and the contribution it makes to the discussion on the future shape of services on the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service network".

The spokesman added: "We look forward to working with local communities, Transport Scotland, CMAL and the Transport Minister to ensure the best outcome for those who use and rely on Scotland’s ferry services.”