A MONTH ago, the long awaited “Project Neptune” report was published by the Scottish Government.

The objective of the review, valued at £156,000 and prepared by accountancy firm Ernst & Young, was simple: scrutinise how Scotland’s ferries are run and suggest areas of improvement.

The key recommendation made was to re-badge CalMac and CMAL, which owns and procures ferries, and merge them into one body.

While I’m sympathetic to this idea and campaigned against fragmentation of the service back in 2005, it doesn’t address the sector’s major challenge – a lack of vessels.

Islanders don’t need a multinational to tell them why their vital public service isn’t functioning properly. The current model has repeatedly failed them when it comes to decision making.

Residents understand services are sometimes cancelled due to poor weather. What they rightly don’t accept are frequent, short-notice cancellations because of poor infrastructure and the ageing fleet.

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Both the main vessels which run from Ardrossan – MV Caledonian Isles and MV Isle of Arran – are much older than the industry standard of 25 years.

In total, just five new ferries have been delivered to CalMac since the SNP took office in 2007.

Meanwhile, the urgently needed two vessels in construction at Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow are overdue and over budget, with public money wasted on executives and various technical mistakes made both pre- and post-nationalisation needing to be fixed. It’s therefore unsurprising the Scottish Conservatives have used these crises to promote their tried and tested “solution” of privatisation.

This week, private operators Pentland Ferries and Western Ferries reiterated their call for the network to be “unbundled”, which would allow them to bid for routes.

Even putting aside the troubling anti-trade union stance of these operators and the race to the bottom on workers’ rights this would lead to, inviting more companies to profit off this essential public service is a distraction and isn’t the answer.

We aren’t in this dire situation because of the ownership model.

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CMAL has looked at more than 130 vessels around the world with a view to bringing them in second-hand.

None have proven suitable. Ministers have even commissioned a shipyard in Turkey to build two vessels.

Outsourcing shipbuilding abroad when communities in Scotland lack training and employment opportunities is wrong and certainly not a long term strategy.

What’s needed is a procurement plan develop our industrial capacity to build in Scotland and deliver for communities that rely on ferry services with a model that listens to communities and the workforce.

This plan should use opportunities to build on new technologies to develop a zero-emission fleet, which will also help meet maritime climate targets.

When private interests take precedent over local communities, it’s those who rely on the service that suffer. But it’s not too late to learn the right lessons from this ferries fiasco.

We must fight for a community-centred approach where vessels are commissioned here and operated in the public sector, with workers, islanders and ferry users consulted every step of the way.