Letter published in Dunoon Observer, August 4th 2006

Despite the Executive's claims to the contrary, their Invitation to Tender for the Gourock-Dunoon route bears no resemblance to the proposal I put forward with Captain Sandy Ferguson and Mr Ronnie Smith in 2004. We did not recommend a tender process, certainly not one limited to six years and hedged in with restrictions and uncertainties that are not imposed on what would be the other unsubsidised ferry operator on the route, Western Ferries.

I pointed out last year that there was little or no chance of the Executive obtaining a ferry operator out of the pool of companies that expressed interest in the Campbeltown-Ballycastle service, and I was proved right on that. The same thing is likely to happen here, and the Executive must be aware of that also. Yet they continue with this drawn out, expensive, futile and wasteful exercise

The commercial logic of V-ships originally being interested in Gourock-Dunoon was with its fit as one piece of a larger jigsaw that included Northern Isles and the main CalMac tender They lost the Northern Isles tender and as a consequence last month they indicated they were considering pulling out of interest in the main Calmac tender. In any case, there is no decision planned on who gets the main CalMac tender until the Autumn at the earliest. In those circumstances, they cannot realistically be expected to submit a firm proposal and bid for Gourock-Dunoon in isolation, certainly not in 2-3 months time, which is the deadline set by the Executive.

CalMac do not have the ships to use the new linkspan and the Executive has made clear no money would be made available for them to obtain suitable vessels. And even if the streakers were an economic proposition (CalMac's own figures put their operating costs at 60% higher than modern equivalents), the Invitation to Tender encourages bidders to assume that the Dunoon Pier side loading linkspan, designed for the streakers, would not be fit for use after next year.

Which leaves Western. It might be thought that it would be in Western's interest to bid for the tender to get a monopoly of vehicle carrying on the route, but it does not have to do that to become the monopoly operator. It knows that there is little likelihood of a serious bid from any other quarter. Why should it pay pier dues at Gourock-and Dunoon when it does not have to at McInroys Point and Hunters Quay. As with the Cambeltown and CalMac tenders, there is no commercial logic in it proceeding beyond the "Expressions of Interest" stage.

So October will come and the Executive will express "disappointment" that there has been no serious bids - just as they did at Campbeltown-Ballycastle. They will say they need time to "reflect" on the implications. And then they will blame the delays and failures to find a second commercial operator on a failed proposal from Sandy Ferguson, Ronnie Smith and me.

If you do not think that is what is going to happen, just wait and see.

Neil kay