Letter published in Dunoon Observer 12th October 2007

Some questions on ferries

I received two ferry-related pieces of correspondence through the mail last week. The first was from the constituency MP Mr Alan Reid with a picture of him and his Leader Nicol Stephen in front of a CalMac ferry in Dunoon. Mr Reid "called on the Scottish Executive to put the route out to tender" (I presume he meant the Scottish Government).

The second piece of correspondence also featured Mr Stephen, this time when he was Minister of Transport in the Scottish Executive. Apparently I had not been given all the information on the "Users Charter" meetings that the Scottish Information Commissioner had instructed I be given as a result of my appeal under Freedom of Information legislation. The fuller version of the record of one meeting between Mr Stephen, SE (Scottish Executive) officials, Gordon Ross Managing Director of WF (Western Ferries) and A&BC (Argyll and Bute Council) on 11th August 2004 reads as follows;

"15. The Minister then attempted to summarise WF's position; • WF develop and get agreement on a tri-partite agreement between WF, SE and A&BC, • WF develop and get agreement on a Users' Charter [Two bullet points omitted- information outwith scope of request and redacted] • Without the tri-partite agreement and Users' Charter the SE and local users would be exposed to a monopoly situation. 16. Gordon Ross confirmed the Minister's summary was an accurate assessment of one possible outcome. The Minister indicated that the Executive might still have to go through the tender process but that the outcome he had just described was attractive. The Minister particularly mentioned that he would welcome a Users' Charter".

While still Minister, Mr Stephen was to announce to Parliament the decision to tender a few weeks later. As Western made clear in these meetings, a "Users Charter" depended on Western being sole operator of vehicle ferries Gourock-Dunoon. So the choice being discussed by the Minister was between Western as sole operator or Western as monopoly.

As his Leader's representative in Cowal, perhaps Mr Reid could answer these questions

What is the difference between Western as sole operator and a Western monopoly?

Why were these two outcomes apparently the only ones being discussed in these meetings?

Why did the Minister Mr Stephen say that the outcome he had just described (which meant Western as sole operator) was attractive even though he "might still have to go through the tender process".

Is there any reason why any company, including CalMac would be interested in a tender for this route given the way it was mishandled last time?

Why should anyone other than Western Ferries listen to any advice Mr Reid and his colleagues give as to when and how to tender these services?

Will Mr Reid answer these questions? Or, better still, will he invite his Leader, Mr Stephen, the former Minister responsible, back to a public meeting in Dunoon to answer them for himself?

Neil Kay