MINISTERS have been accused of undermining the resilience of Scotland's lifeline ferry network by "repurposing" a multi-million-pound fund for building a stock of spare parts brought in three years ago.

Transport minister Graeme Dey has admitted the ferry resilience fund for 2018/19 has not been utilised to purchase a spare parts stock for the Calmac ferry fleet.

The £3.5 million annual fund was announced in August 2018 and it was intended to “reduce the risk of vessels from breaking down and to return them to service quicker if they do”, according to Transport Scotland.

A further £7 million has been allocated since then.

The revelation has shocked Highlands and Islands MSP Edward Mountain, the former convenor of the rural economy and connectivity committee whose probe into the construction of two overdue and over-budget ferries for CalMac branded the management process a "catastrophic failure".

READ MORE: The "shocking" state of Scotland’s lifeline ferries laid bare - nearly half should be retired

The Scottish Conservatives’ deputy chief whip who has raised the questions over the use of the resilience fund said it was another reason why a public inquiry was needed into the Scottish Government's management of the ferry network.

HeraldScotland:

It comes after a summer of ferry disruptions to lifeline services with a number of CalMac ferries breaking down.

Transport secretary, Michael Matheson confirmed to the Scottish Parliament in January, 2019 that the purpose of the fund was to allow for forward planning and would help CalMac to ensure that it "can hold in stock some of the mechanical parts that it needs, so that it can improve reliability, in particular" and that could also have an impact on the performance of its vessels.

"At times, some vessels on particular routes might have had a greater number of reliability issues than those in the rest of the fleet," he said.

"The resilience fund is about trying to address that so that there can be some forward planning in that regard. For example, often, a mechanical failure on a ferry is the result of a problem with a part that is not held in stock and which has to be manufactured," he said.

READ MORE: Revealed: Ministers' secret path to the controversial state takeover of Ferguson Marine

"The resilience fund will allow CalMac to have certain items manufactured so that it can hold them in stock to reduce the time before it can make the repair. That sort of support will help to reduce the inconvenience and difficulty that is caused when mechanical problems arise."

HeraldScotland: Michael Matheson

He added: "Given the age of the fleet, there might be equipment that needs to be replaced, and the fund will allow it to undertake that work earlier, which will reduce the risk of any mechanical or electronic difficulties arising in the vessel that might impact on its being in service.

"The fund is a resource over and above Caledonian MacBrayne’s normal maintenance budget that will allow it to make certain specific investments in vessels or to hold in stock equipment that it can use very quickly to replace anything and to minimise any disruption in the event of a mechanical problem."

Now after questions were raised about how the resilience fund is being used, and what additional spares had been purchased by using this fund, Mr Dey said: “The resilience fund does not purchase spares in the context of a spare unit to support a unit in service. It is the vessel operators responsibility to procure spares for ongoing support in service - spares as required to support planned maintenance or replacement spares to resolve breakdowns.”

Mr Mountain said the cabinet secretary had given a clear assurance to the Scottish Parliament that the resilience fund would buy spares and then hold them in stock.

"This was a good idea and it would have saved time in repairing vessels," he said.

"However, the Minister for Transport has now confirmed this wasn’t the case at all, meaning the resilience fund has been repurposed from its original intention.

"This unacceptable lack of forward planning means that our aging CalMac fleet is at further risk of long repairs, therefore causing major disruption to island communities.

"The SNP have broken their promise over the use of this resilience fund, so it’s little wonder that ferry breakdowns continue to be a problem for CalMac."

It comes as transport chiefs continue a search to charter back-up for Scotland's beleaguered fleet after a summer of disruption and breakdowns.

HeraldScotland:

CalMac is currently footing an £11,760 a day bill to charter an emergency ferry from Isle of Man government-owned Isle of Man Steam Packet Company Limited to help maintain lifeline passenger and freight services.

MV Arrow was brought in to help relieve pressure on freight services between CalMac's Stornoway to Ullapool crossing but broke down on July 24 after operating for just a week. Marine waste got tangled with a propellor and all sailings scrapped till the end of the month.

MV Loch Seaforth, which runs the Stornoway to Ullapool route had to undergo major repairs after suffering an engine failure in mid-April.

The breakdown caused wider disruption to CalMac's west coast network as other ferries had to cover.

It led to six delays in getting the vessel back in service as repairs continued before coming back into services at the end of May.

HeraldScotland:

The delivery of new lifeline island ferries MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802, which were due online in the first half of 2018, are over four years late, with costs doubling to over £200m. Glen Sannox was due to support the Arran route.

In a damning report MSPs on Holyrood's rural economy and connectivity committee called for "root and branch" reform of the system for procuring ships for Scotland's publicly-owned ferry network.

Mr Dey said the fund was still being used to support CalMac vessels by providing funding to replace obsolete equipment and systems on vessels "and mitigate the risk of a prolonged service outage to replace obsolete equipment/systems".

"Equipment and/or systems can be obsolete when either or both of a) spares are not available and b) service support is no longer provided by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM)," he said.

The fund is directed on a prioritised list of obsolete equipment/systems based on risk to the vessel being taken off service for extended periods if the equipment fails.

"The fund is therefore a preventative maintenance fund - mitigating the risk of vessel breakdown and loss of service by prioritising replacement of equipment and systems."

A Scottish Government spokesman insisted the Ferries Resilience Fund is serving the function it was established for. 

"In the breakdown of funding for 2018/19 the majority of the funding was used to replace obsolete equipment such as systems and component parts that cannot be supported by the original manufacturers.  These were replaced proactively which therefore reduces the risk of vessels breaking down and being taken out of service.

“It is also noted that it is the responsibility of CalMac Ferries Ltd (CFL) under the Clyde & Hebrides contract to procure spares on a rolling basis as part of the renewals and maintenance programme to ensure the continued safe operation and service resilience of their vessels and maintains lifeline connections.”