A PROPOSED solution to ferries problems highlighted by the Ferguson's fiasco has been passed to the Holyrood committee probing the debacle.

A former adviser to the Scottish Government has produced a research paper aimed at fixing the current procurement process — described by one inquiry witness as 'amateur' — while focusing on the importance of the port of Gourock.

Professor Neil Kay argues against Transport Scotland's claim that restoring car ferries on the town centres crossing would be bad for climate change/pollution objectives.

In his document — which has been published on the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee's website — the professor also demonstrates that the current foot passenger-only service has actually worked against the government's desire to increase use of public transport.

Passenger numbers on the Gourock-Dunoon run plummeted by nearly 40 per cent between 2010 — the last year of the car ferries — and 2017, from 499,200 to 301,800, according to figures used by the professor.

He says that the length of public sector tender contracts under existing UK/EU guidelines is too short to justify expenditure on ships with expected lifespans of up to 30 years.

The professor says that the introduction of environmentally friendly ferries on the route 'could be achieved relatively quickly' provided the sort of problems encountered by the Ferguson's contract 'can be avoided'.

Professor Kay said: "Actions to maintain the Gourock facility for vehicles on this route also helps support Gourock's role as a port of refuge for Bute and Arran ferry services."

He argues that currently berthing fees charged by Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd [CMAL] to dock vessels at Gourock are prohibitive to commercial ferry operators.

The professor's proposal is for the Scottish Government to invite 'expressions of interest' in the long-term leasing of the CMAL shore-based facilities at Gourock, provided that this would lead to the reintroduction of a car ferry service on the route.

The Tele revealed yesterday how the passenger only vessels continue to be plagued by cancellations, with over 1,300 crossings called off last year.

Prof Kay said: "Instead of the port facilities at Gourock and Dunoon being a continual drain on public funds as they are now, they would generate surpluses for the harbour authorities."

The professor pointed out that Western Ferries — which operates outwith the town centres between McInroy's Point and Hunters Quay — carried 659,000 vehicles in 2017, more than one in five of the total vehicles carries on all of Scotland's ferry routes that year.

Professor Kay said: "Replacing the passenger-only service with a vehicle carrying service would typically add more to fare box revenues than it would to cost, and so has the potential to significantly reduce [or even eliminated] the need for any subsidy for the passenger component of the service.

"This is demonstrated by the consistently high annual profits enjoyed by Western Ferries' vehicle-carrying service."

Turning to environmental impacts, the professor added: "The considerable bulk of Western Ferries traffic tends to go into the towns anyway. It just takes longer and travels further to get there, adding more road usage and vehicle emissions in the process.

"A direct Gourock-Dunoon town centre vehicle-carrying service would cut off about 3.5 miles travelled for all Gourock to Dunoon or Dunoon to Gourock bound vehicles compared to the Western Ferries route."

The professor also quotes a Greenock Telegraph article in his paper, which revealed that the current unreliable passenger-only vessels operated by Caledonian MacBrayne racked up 4,500 cancelled sailing in three-and-a-half years — 678 of those having come in the first six months of 2019.

The Telegraph put a series of questions to Transport Scotland regarding Professor Kays submission but officials refused to answer them, citing the ongoing ferries inquiry.

A spokesman for Transport Scotland said: "The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee's inquiry is ongoing as such it would not be appropriate to comment on other submissions while their work is ongoing.

"Scottish Government minister and officials are expected to be asked to provide evidence in due course."