SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT-owned CalMac Ferries Ltd has amassed over twice as much in performance fines over its running of west coast ferry services in the last year than in its first nine years in charge.

The ferry operator has amassed nearly £10m in fines since 2007 and nearly £8m in penalties has come since it kept the contract just over five years ago.

Some £4.454m in penalties has been incurred in the 20 months to June this year.

Before CalMac Ferries Ltd, a subsidiary of David MacBrayne Ltd, took the £1bn eight-year contract under competition from the services company Secro, the penalties over nine years to September, 2016 amounted to just £1.36m.

CalMac is to get a record amount of fines for the latest full year - having incurred £2.310m in penalties in the eight months to June, 2022 alone.

That is almost double the amount it amassed in its first full year in charge of the ferries service when it received a £1.234m fine.

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CalMac Ferries had faced fierce competition for the contract awarded in 2016 from the controversial services company Serco, which controls the Northlink ferry service to Orkney and Shetland as well as the Caledonian rail sleeper service to London.

CalMac's contract bid made almost 350 commitments to improve the service, including investments in vessel and port improvements, increasing traffic, providing more opportunities for local employment, more community engagement, and maintaining all existing routes and services.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said CalMac's bid offered a "good deal" for the communities it serves.

The £4.454m penalties over 20 months eclipses the £3.3m pre-tax profit that CalMa cFerries Limited recorded in the year to March 2021.

It has led to escalated calls from ferry users for the penalties to be put in a pot to compensate those who are losing money from disruption to the ferry services.

One ferry user group official said: "Even taking into account inflation, the most recent penalties are quite shocking, and reveal just how badly our ferries are letting us down.

"The lack of investment in replacing our ageing ferries is coming home to roost, and really this money instead of going back to the Scottish Government, should be going back to the those who have suffered through ferry failures over the years."

In August Alasdair Allan the SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar said the transport minister Jenny Gilruth had agreed to look at whether a compensation scheme can be created from financial performance penalties imposed on CalMac.

Details of the penalties have previously been kept under wraps by the Scottish Government-controlled ferry operator saying they were commercially sensitive.

Similar penalties have been made by Transport Scotland to ScotRail over its performance - but the money is reinvested in improvements to the Scottish rail network, such as upgraded waiting areas on the Edinburgh to Glasgow route.

Seventeen of CalMac's 35 working ferries deployed across Scotland are now over 25 years old.

The oldest in the CalMac fleet is is the Isle of Cumbrae which is 46-years old.

And the cost of repairs to ferries run by CalMac has more than tripled in a decade as age has taken its toll.

The state-controlled ferry operator spent more than £28.5m on repairs to their vessels last year, compared with just £9.5m in 2011.

Since the SNP came to power in 2007, the average age of Scotland's lifeline vessels has soared from 17 years to 24 years. Back in 1974 the typical ferry was just 13 years old.


The network issues have come as would-be ferry replacements MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 are still languishing in now state-owned Ferguson Marine's shipyard, with costs of their construction more than doubling from the original £97m contract to nearly £250m. Their official in-service launch is running at least five years late.

The first ship was meant to enter service on the Arran route in the summer of 2018 but is not expected to be ready until next year at the earliest - five years late. Hull 802, destined for an Outer Hebrides route, has gone the same way. The latest estimated cost for both ships is at least £250m off an original fixed contract price of £97m.

Ferguson Marine's financial collapse in August, 2019 resulted in state takeover.

The ferries contract was plagued by design changes, delays and disputes over cost, with the yard’s management and CMAL blaming each other.

In 2016, when CalMac bid to retain the ferries contract, trade union leaders, opposition parties and community campaigners were furious that Serco was in the running, accusing Scottish ministers of preparing to privatise CalMac’s heavily subsidised lifeline ferry services, putting the crews’ pensions and working conditions under threat.

Operating between 22 Scottish islands and linking coastal towns such as Largs, Wemyss Bay and Ardrossan along the Firth of Clyde, at that time the CalMac was 475 sailings a day during summer and about 350 a day in winter – some voyages lasting barely five minutes and others, such as Oban to South Uist in the outer Hebrides, up to five hours and 20 minutes.

Trade unions welcomed the announcement that Calmac had retained the contract, which came with assurances that there would be no compulsory redundancies and no change to the pensions scheme.

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Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said, “Penalties are a normal part of these types of contract and are set out in the CHFS2 contract – which is in the public domain.

“All vessels require increased maintenance as they age, therefore we have invested record sums in our fleet to maintain vessel resilience and service in order to provide a high quality service to our communities and customers.

"This investment increased by around 70% over five years from £20.5m in 2017 to £34.1m in 2021 and in the last 12 months contractual reliability was 98.66%. Contractual punctuality was 99.29%.

“Preventative measures we have recently introduced include setting up a single centre of excellence for spare stock and increasing our capability to carry out defect trend analysis and root cause investigation. A programme of additional inspections and surveys will also be carried out during the forthcoming overhauls season on critical structure and compo