The end of it all

Bill Jardine, the previous editor of the Dunoon Observer wrote in an editorial in 2006; "Professor Kay .... 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".

So here is one last prediction. The CalMac vehicle carrying service (and any town centre to town centre vehicle carrying service) will end at some point between October this year and October 2009. Decisions have already been taken which virtually guarantee this. The only thing that remains is to find a justification for this, whether it is the state of the pier, the state of the linkspan, the state of Jupiter, the current European Commission investigation, the Council's waterfront development, or whatever. But none of these will be the real reason .

And this will not only be be a major economic and social tragedy for both Cowal and Inverclyde, with not only this crucial transport link being given over into the hands of a private sector monopoly, but millions more a year in unnecessary subsidy for a grossly inferior service just to help create and protect a private monopoly. The Deloitte Touche report for the Scottish Executive in 2000 showed that if you are to have a service for foot passengers between Gourock and Dunoon then adding vehicle carrying would greatly reduce and even eliminate the necessary subsidy because the money is in vehicles not in foot passengers -as Western has shown.. And, make no mistake, the European Commission has said explicitly rhat such a solution would be acceptable to them under EC law.

Ministers are ultimately responsible for what is done or not done about the public service between Gourock and Dunoon. But after 16 years of personal involvement in this, it is clear that the pressure for all this comes from the civil servants advising ministers.

Officials will now increase their efforts to give over Gourock-Dunoon to a Western monopoly in the next few months for three main reasons.

First, the European Commission is currently investigating the possibility of illegal subsidy to CalMac over the past several years.It is going to be difficult or impossible for the Goverment to show willing and do anything about the CalMac network as a whole or in part - with the exception of Gourock-Dunoon which they will see as easily dispensed with as a separate route subject to separate tender. CalMac Gourock-Dunoon would be a convenient sacrifical goat.

Second, any change in policy here resulting in a frequent vehicle carrying service between the town centres and lowering subsidy along the lines set out by Deloitte Touche would mean that previous policy was wrong and that the advice of civil servants and their predecessors was responsible for wasting ten of millions of pounds of tax payers money. Such a visible demonstration of what would have been, at best, gross incompetence, would not be allowed to happen.

Third, officials will be desparate to stop the Commission coming down and actually investigating the effects of the restraint on trade (the frequency restriction on the CalMac public service) that has been going on down here for years - they will try to pre-empt this by shutting CalMac up and giving Western everything they want, which means ending the vehicle carrying service between the town centres. No service to investigate means less or no reason for the Commission to come down

It would be sufficient for the Minister responsible to have the ability and the confidence to second guess officials when the minister clearly is not getting competent or responsible internal advice, but even when ministers commission outside experts (eg the Deloitte Touche report), that has not happened here and is unlikely to happen now.

The other thing which is actively contributing to this is the action of the Council. Forget anything you might hear publicly from councillors saying the Council is working to protect and improve the vehicle carrying service between Gourock and Dunoon, the documents I obtained under Freedom of Information about the "Users Charter" meetings showed the Council privately talking down a vehicle carrying service between Gourock and Dunoon and talking up a passenger only service (see blogs below on this site for more on this). Councillors and council officials have been (and are) acting against the interests of those they were supposed to represent and protect.

Also do not believe anything you hear about an "improved" service for passengers or the "possibility" of still having a vehicle carrying service between the town centres. There are too many vested interests for anything other than further degradation and decline of the service to happen, which was always what was intended when Margaret Thatcher's government first imposed the hourly frequency restriction on the public service in 1982.

I've said before that much of this would shame a Third World country, not just the state of the service and the infrastructure, but also the decisions that have led to where we are today and where we will be tomorrow. If I were to modify anything, it would be that this could now be regarded as insulting to many Thirld World countries.

Neil Kay, 22nd July 2008