The following were all printed in the Dunoon Observer, 20th October 2006. The two top articles are also available in the electronic version of the paper for that day

Former CalMac superintendent refutes “not fit for use” claim
“WHILE I appreciate concerns from councillors and members of the public about spending substantial sums on the old linkspan, unless a ferry can be provided by CalMac or another company to operate from the new linkspan then I feel personally that we have no option but to spend the money to serve the needs of the travelling public.”
That was the stark view of the situation from Councillor Brian Chennell on Monday.
The council believes that the new linkspan should be brought into operation as soon as possible, and that there’s no reason not to do so.
And that’s the crunch. There’s an obvious - and ongoing - problem with the linkspan at Dunoon Pier - so why the reluctance to use the new linkspan?
In a statement last week CalMac Chief Executive said that the linkspan was ‘not fit for purpose’.
Asked to elaborate on this, communications director Hugh Dan MacLennan said: “The lighting is inadequate and there’s no gangway.”
This view, however, was hotly contested by Sandy Ferguson, who speaks with some authority on the subject
Mr - or more properly - Captain Ferguson, was until 1998 CalMac’s Marine Superintendent, so any views that he might have on whether the linkspan is ‘fit for purpose’ are based on considerable experience, not least of which was his role as the company’s senior operational officer.
He said: “I went for a walk round the terminal on Monday and I’m at a loss to understand what Mr MacLennan means. The lighting is absolutely first class - I’ve also checked with the Pier Master and he assures me that it’s is fully functional.”
He went on: “Using a gangway is even easier than I envisaged. There is more than ample space to move the present gangway and operate it at the new berth.
“ If, as I expect, the present gangway will not reach the higher gangway doors of the Bute at high tides, then a standard gangway up to 20 metres in length can be utilised straight on to the ship which would only require a small lifting davit on the ship’s side above the gangway door with a one-man operated electric gangway lifting winch.”
He concluded: “CalMac can easily calculate the maximum length of gangway required, which I imagine would certainly be less than 20 metres, but the whole thing couldn’t be more straightforward.”
Asked if his company would be interested in running to the linkspan if approached by the council, Western Ferries’ Managing Director Gordon Ross said: “Our door has always been open in that respect; we believe that the reason no approach has been made is because of the Scottish Executive’s tendering activity.”
However, Western have always made it clear that they would not be interested in operating from the CalMac terminal at Gourock.

Councillors to meet minister over pier issue
COUNCILLORS are to meet with Transport Minister Tavish Scott next Thursday in a last-ditch attempt to resolve the growing crisis over Dunoon Pier.
Councillors are hoping that the minister can be shifted from the stance he adopted back in July that he would be ‘content’ for CalMac to operate a passenger-only service until the new Dunoon-Gourock contract starts.
Councillors demanded an ‘urgent’ meeting following this disclosure, and next week’s date was apparently the first free hour in Mr Scott’s diary,
Councillor Brian Chennell said that he hoped that George Lyon, as the local MSP, would also be present.
The news of the meeting follows an exchange of views last Wednesday between council officials and CalMac representatives which showed just how far apart the two sides are.
The meeting was to discuss the implications of the weight restrictions to be imposed on the old pier’s linkspan while strengthening work is to be carried out. The remedial works will take around four months to complete and will be finished by the end of February in a “worst-case scenario”. The meeting ended with an unseemly ‘who said what’ row over its content. Argyll and Bute Council has emphatically denied asking CalMac to switch vessels currently serving the Isle of Bute to service the new linkspan in Dunoon, as claimed by the ferry operator. A spokesperson for the council said, “This is simply not true. Argyll and Bute Council’s overriding objective is to ensure the continuation of a passenger and vehicle town centre to town centre service.
“This can best be done by using the new linkspan. We are disappointed to arrive at this stage and note that with only days of the tendering process left, we have had no approaches from prospective tenderers in relation to a harbour access agreement.”
However, CalMac’s recollection of the meeting is different. Communication Director Hugh Dan MacLennan said that “It became clear as the meeting progressed that the underlying agenda is to enable the council to make the case for having MV Bute brought from Rothesay to use the linkspan at Dunoon.
Councillor Brian Chennell, Chairman of Bute and Cowal Area Committee, said that the scale of proposed repairs would not offer a permanent solution. Six companies had been asked to tender for the work, and after these tenders had been submitted the council would then look at a way forward.
Asked why the restrictions were being imposed on November 1 and not immediately, he said that this was because the consultant engineers were assuming the beginning of winter weather after this date.
A further attempt to resolve the situation was taking place as we went to press. A meeting between CalMac Chief Executive Lawrie Sinclair and Argyll and Bute Council Leader Allan Macaskill had been arranged for yesterday afternoon (Thursday).

Editorial Comment: Dunoon Observer Friday 20th October page 2

THE blame for the acrimonious row between Argyll and Bute Council and Caledonian MacBrayne over Dunoon Pier lies wholly and squarely at the door of the Scottish Executive.
This newspaper make no apology for returning yet again to the issue of the ferry service to Dunoon. The sequence of events which has brought us to this sorry pass might be expected in a banana republic – but not in a country which pioneered the whole concept of integrated sea transport.

We’ve had seven years of empty words from a whole series of politicians who are consistent only in their ability to insult the collective intelligence of the public.

Last week MEP Alyn Smith asked the European Transport Commissioner a simple question: “Do you need a Public Service Obligation to run a subsidised ferry service.

The answer he got was a categoric ‘yes’.

To which the Scottish Executive responded by saying: “This supports the position we have been taking all along…”


In June Tavish Scott, the current transport minister said: “PSOs would not….deliver on the Executive’s key policy objectives.”

Is it fair to conclude that, not only are they singing from different hymnsheets, they’re not even singing in the same church?

When V-ships pulled out of the process for Dunoon- Gourock George Lyon angrily hit out at the company citing as proof of their lack of interest the fact that the company had never contacted the council to establish the cost of harbour dues.

Nor has anyone else…… does that tell you something?

Now we have him telling Calmac and Argyll and Bute Council to get their heads together and resolve the impasse over Dunoon Pier.

This from a minister in a government whose mind-boggling incompetence is entirely responsible for the situation in the first place – the same government whose tender document tells would-be bidders that the pier may not last beyond the spring of next year!

We are a matter of days away from the conclusion of the ‘tendering’ process for Dunoon-Gourock.

Back in August Professor Neil Kay predicted that there would be no serious bids for the route, and that the blame would be put for the failure on the so-called ‘Kay proposals’ for which he emphatically denies any responsibility.

Professor Kay has proven to be something of a modern Cassandra. He has on numerous occasions predicted with uncanny accuracy the way this process would go, but no-one at the Scottish Executive has paid him any heed.

Maybe it’s time they did, before it’s too late.

Fact: Calmac has two ships capable of operating into the new linkspan at Dunoon. At least one of them – reportedly both – are due to go into layup, coincidentally, over the period of restrictions on Dunoon’s old pier?

Why can’t one of these vessels be designated to run between the railhead at Gourock and the new linkspan?

It’s a simple question, but no-one seems able – or willing - to provide a credible answer.

Next week Argyll and Bute Councillors will get just one hour with the Transport Minister to discuss the crisis, among other transport-related items affecting the area - a meetign they asked for back in July.

It's up to Tavish Scott to grasp how crucial this matter is to the future of Cowal and to make that sixty minutes matter.

Letter from Neil Kay

We now know through Freedom of Information that there were at least six meetings between the Scottish Executive and Western Ferries to discuss Western's proposals for a "Users Charter" (an Executive/Western agreement setting Western prices and services), and that at least two meetings involved the past and present Transport Ministers, Nicol Stephen and Tavish Scott.

The current minister Tavish Scott told Parliament this January; "Discussions on this issue ... were overtaken by the Executive’s proposals to seek an operator willing to provide a service between Gourock Pier and Dunoon Pier on a commercial basis".

However, these Executive proposals were approved by Parliament in December 2004, but details revealed under Freedom of Information have since confirmed that the Executive continued to encourage Western Ferries to discuss their "Users Charter" proposals with the Executive and there was at least one meeting between the minister Tavish Scott and Western Ferries some months after that.

Despite heavy Executive censorship of what was discussed and agreed, we know Western Ferries made it absolutely clear in these meetings that their "Users Charter" depended on their being the monopoly operator of vehicle ferries Gourock-Dunoon, and the Scottish Executive stated they accepted that.

So any discussion of "Users Charter" implied two conditions - CalMac withdrawing their vehicle-carrying ferries, and no other operators of vehicle services coming into the Gourock-Dunoon market.

These discussions about how a possible Western monopoly would work took place in private at a time when the Executive's public position was they were taking steps to encourage competition on the route.

Many of the ten operators who first expressed interest in coming into the Gourock-Dunoon market have since expressed frustration with what appeared to be impediments put in their way by the Executive. Recently, V-Ships withdrew from the short list for the tender stating they were "unable to convince our shareholders with sufficient confidence that we could compete on a level playing field" Western is now building second linkspans at both Hunters Quay and McInroys Point that will allow them to run twin-track service on that route and handle all the vehicle-carrying traffic.

And now CalMac have announced that they may go passenger-only on what, on close examination, seems little more than a pretext. And once CalMac goes passenger-only for several months, you will not see CalMac vehicle-carrying returning. The Ali Cat (or equivalent) is what is going to be left. Over the past few months CalMac have repeatedly stated that they are only obligated to run a passenger service Gourock-Dunoon, and that obligation is only for an hourly service. If lucky, there might be two Ali Cats.

Now, of course, all these subsequent events could be coincidental and have nothing to do with the series of meetings and correspondence involving the Executive about how a Western monopoly could work. It may simply be that the Executive is just guilty of stupidity and naiviety in this context. There is only way that the Executive can prove that their intentions were honourable here and that is to publish everything that was discussed at these "Users Charter" meetings.

Because if the information already released raises legitimate concerns about the public interest not being served by the Executive here, there will be no surprise if legitimate concerns are raised regarding the Executive's motives for censorship of even more details of what they discussed and agreed in this context.

You can find what has been published so far about these meetings by Googling "Western Ferries" +"Users charter", it's the top hit.

Neil Kay