CalMac Gourock-Dunoon transferred to "Cowal Ferries Ltd"

No consultation, no warning, and no announcement.

CalMac staff Gourock-Dunoon have been told via a letter dated 7th March that with effect from 1st April (no, it is not a joke), they and CalMac's Gourock-Dunoon business will be transferred to a new company "Cowal Ferries Ltd" which is "ultimately owned" by Scottish Executive ministers.

CalMac staff were totally unaware of the changes until they received the letter. Also, no mention of this plan was made when I recently met the Minister of Transport with members of parliament to discuss plans for Gourock-Dunoon.

The short list for the (ultimately failed) tender was announced July 31st 2006 (V-ships, CalMac and Western) and the Invitation to Tender was issued then.

However, I have found out by Internet search that Cowal Ferries had been set up as limited company at almost exactly the same time, beginning August 2006 (see page 1046 of the Edinburgh Gazette).

So the Executive must have known/intended at that point that whatever happened, CalMac would not be running that service later this year, it would be Cowal Ferries Ltd. So why put in a company (CalMac) for the tender that you know you intend to pull CalMac out of the service, whatever happens?

It is consistent with the CalMac chairman Peter Timms who recently said in the Herald he "doesn't hold out much hope for CalMac continuing to run car ferries between Gourock and Dunoon, hinting at a passenger-only operation".

It will be easier to close down (or downgrade to passenger only) after the May elections a small service run by a company no-one has heard of, compared to headlines that would follow the abandoning of CalMac's flagship route if it was still flagged as a CalMac service.

But the most bizarre part of the letter is the first paragraph where it says:

"As you are aware, we are required by the Scottish Executive as part of the process whereby the provision of the Clyde and Hebridean Ferry Services has been put out to tender, to separate the operation of ferry services operating between Gourock and Dunoon. The proposal for the Gourock-Dunoon services is covered in the separate Tender document issued by the Scottish Executive"

What are they talking about? The "proposal for the Gourock-Dunoon services" that was "covered in the separate tender document by the Scottish Executive" was for an unsubsidised service and that tender failed completely because of the restrictions placed on it by the Executive.

Unless this has been kept from the public (and the parliamentarians who met the Minister last month) there is presently no tender proposal for Gourock-Dunoon on the table.

More generally, the real headline today is "The Executive makes CalMac abandon Gourock-Dunoon and leaves the population of Cowal and Inverclyde to a Western Ferries monopoly".

And anyone who thinks this is a one-off restricted to Cowal is mistaken, what has happened to the public service here can be, and will be, repeated over much of the network given the restrictions placed on the main CalMac tender .

Neil Kay 13th March 2007

Addendum 13th March PM. A Companies House check shows Cowal Ferries Ltd was incorporated as a private company on the 9th August 2006, Its Registered Office was changed in February 2007 from an Aberdeen address to The Ferry Terminal Gourock. There are three directors, Alexander Lynch, Lawrie Sinclair (who is also MD of Calmac) and Peter Timms (whio is also Chairman of CalMac). No list of shareholders were provided, on the basis of the letter sent to employees it is presumed these would be Scottish ministers.