SCOTLAND’S “consistently unreliable” ferry service poses a “literal existential threat”, the Government has been warned.

A new report by the Scottish Parliament’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee – membership of which is split evenly between Unionist and pro-independence parties – said the lack of a reliable ferry service for communities on Scotland’s west coast was causing “real damages”.

The report explored what future ferry provision should look like as state-owned CalMac’s ageing fleet comes under pressure after it cancelled sailings to South Uist for most of June.

Concern was also raised about the “churn” of transport ministers, with three different post-holders within 18 months.

Jenny Gilruth – now Education Secretary – held the role from January 2022 but Kevin Stewart was given the brief in March following Humza Yousaf’s appointment as First Minister.

However, he resigned earlier this month for mental health reasons, with Fiona Hyslop selected to replace him.

READ MORE: Mick Lynch blasts ‘chaotic’ ferry services as he calls for ‘people’s CalMac’

The report noted: “Far too many ferry services in Scotland are unacceptably unreliable. This is causing real damage to communities, particularly those dependent on Clyde and Hebridean ferry services.

“For more fragile island communities, consistently unreliable services risk becoming a literal existential threat.”

And while the ageing fleet was noted as a key factor for the service woes, the committee said: “It is our view that another factor contributing to under-performing ferry services has been a lack of continuity in political leadership, with most recent transport ministers lasting no more than 18 months in the role.

“Ferry-dependent communities in Scotland need continuity and confidence at ministerial level. They need a champion in government with the knowledge, experience and staying power to push through the reforms and improvements the sector now urgently needs. This requires an end to churn in the transport minister role.”

However, committee convener Edward Mountain said Hyslop, who worked on the report while the committee’s deputy convener before taking up the ministerial role, had “experience of the issues covered and wish her well in her new role”.

The report also said that to avoid further disruption to the services, it would support a direct award of the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service 3 contract for an extended period of 10 years, but said “real improvements” must follow.

It also asks the Scottish Government to consider creating a Ferries Scotland arm of Transport Scotland to streamline decision-making.

Mountain added: “On this occasion, to ensure continuity and avoid disruption we are supportive of a direct award of the ferry contract to CalMac but we stress that this is wholly dependant upon significant service improvements being delivered and a change to the tripartite agreement.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scottish ministers welcome receipt of the report and thank the committee for its detailed work.

“In particular we support the strong emphasis the committee placed on hearing from the communities who use the services and we agree that the voices of ferry users need to be a focus of future ferries policy and investment.

“We will carefully consider the recommendations of the report and respond to the committee in due course.”